WEST (CBS 11 NEWS) – It was 7:32 at night when West volunteer firefighters responded to reports of a fire at the fertilizer plant. Things would take a deadly turn for the worse less than 20 minutes later.
Phil Calvin’s son, Perry, a volunteer from the Navarro Mills and Mertens Fire Departments, was among the 12 killed when ammonium nitrate stored at the plant exploded.
“It happened real fast,” Calvin said somberly.
A new state fire marshal report found the West Volunteer Fire Department had no incident command supervising or coordinating operations, no pre-planning of how to respond to a situation of that kind at the plant, and no training for such an event.
We spoke with Mayor Tommy Muska, who’s also a volunteer firefighter. When asked if the report is an indictment against the department he said, “No, those men did exactly what they thought necessary to do, and I fully support their actions. I fully support the fire department.”
The report essentially says the same, that these men did exactly what they were trained to do. So the report recommends more training, planning, and establishing standard operating procedures in highly hazardous situations.
Phil Calvin is not only the father of one of the fallen firefighters; he’s also been a chief of a volunteer fire department for nearly 20 years. He says some of the recommendations in the state’s report aren’t realistic for a volunteer department. “I agree with what they say and on paper, that sounds good.”
Calvin believes that at volunteer departments there’s rarely enough money or manpower. “When you pull up on a scene, the first guy that gets there is more or less the commander,” he said. “But he can’t do any command, because he’s busy fighting fire.”
Despite the loss of his son, Calvin says he’s not bitter. “I lost a son, his wife lost a husband, [and] my three grandkids lost a dad. I got multiple grandkids who lost an uncle. But pointing the finger at somebody… [that’s] not going to happen.”
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