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West Fertilizer Plant Tragedy Prompts Gift From Michigan Fire Department

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Bud Gillett
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ABBOTT (CBSDFW.COM) - A Texas tragedy prompted a gift of caring all the way from Michigan. The chemical plant explosion in the town of West last April was devastating and deadly. The loss of human life captured the nation’s heart. But frequently overlooked was the Abbot Fire Department, which rushed to assist those affected by the blast.

>>>Complete Coverage Of West Fertilizer Explosion<<<

Two souls from the Abbott department were taken, along with an important fire truck. But on Saturday part of the hurt was healed. Firefighters from Ada Township Michigan, just outside of Battle Creek, gave the keys to a pumper that’s 20 years old to the volunteers in Abbott.

abbott fire truck1 West Fertilizer Plant Tragedy Prompts Gift From Michigan Fire Department

“I love it. It’s great! It’s what we need. Good truck,” said one Abbott firefighter, watching a small parade, complete with cheerleaders and a police escort, as the engine arrived. The Ada folks could have sold it for $25,000. But it’s a good truck with only 21,000 miles on it and years of service left. Abbott Fire Chief Bradley Matthys said it fills a vital hole left following the explosion.

“It’s good to be back up and running and have everything we need,” said Chief Matthys. “That’s awesome. Michigan’s a long way.”

As they traveled to Abbott the Ada firefighters gave CBS 11 News a tour of the engine. Much of the remodeling work and new graphics were donated,” according to fire Lieutenant David Murray. “Once this took off, we just kept getting calls for different services and stuff.”

They even sold t-shirts to raise money;1500 of them all across the country. People from as far away as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan have bought the blue shirts.

One hundred percent of proceeds of this t-shirt will directly benefit the Abbott Fire Department and be used to purchase fuel for the truck to get to Texas and to outfit the truck with equipment needed.  (credit: Optix International & Ada Fire Department)

One hundred percent of proceeds of this t-shirt will directly benefit the Abbott Fire Department and be used to purchase fuel for the truck to get to Texas and to outfit the truck with equipment needed. (credit: Optix International & Ada Fire Department)

That allowed the Ada folks to send more than a bare bones vehicle, but a truck completely equipped. “In here we were able to get some hose donated, we weren’t able to leave our hose but this is fully-tested hose that works,” said firefighter Bradley Homes.  The all-important portable air packs and refill bottles are included. “These are expensive for a company to go out and purchase,” said Holmes of the private gifts, “and they gave us all these to donate.”

Five firefighters took turns driving the truck from Ada to Abbott, without air conditioning in the summer heat. The Ada firefighters say some of the most rewarding experiences came on the road when drivers overtaking them would see a sign hung on the back of the pumper that explained their mission.

This map shows the route firefighters from Ada, Michigan drove to deliver a firetruck to firefighters in Abbott. (credit: CBS 11 Art Dept.)

This map shows the route firefighters from Ada, Michigan drove to deliver a firetruck to firefighters in Abbott. (credit: CBS 11 Art Dept.)

“They’ll read it,” said Lt. Murray, talking of passing drivers, “they’ll come up honking horns, giving thumbs up, waving to us.”

Saturday’s hand-off had emotional moments as well. The mother of Abbott fireman Jerry Chapman, Rhonda Chapman, saw her son’s name on a tribute list to the fallen that was written on the pumper’s housing.

Ada firefighters received so many donations they were able to give checks totaling $13,000 to the Abbott Fire Department and West EMS. The generosity left Anthony Pustejovsky, Abbott’s mayor, reflecting on the nature of giving.

“Giving is a very important part of receiving,” he said of the Ada firefighters, “and I hope they get many blessings as a result.”

Ada, Michigan, may be 1200 miles from Abbott, but firefighters say they are all united in loss.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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