WEST (CBS 11 NEWS) – “Broken ribs, broken facial bones… I’ve got a pretty bad sore over here that’s shrapnel wound from being hit by something,” says Robert Payne.  And that’s not all of the injuries.   Still, Payne is so very lucky.  The West Volunteer firefighter was one of the first responders that rushed to fight a fire at the West fertilizer plant last month, before the plant exploded.  Nearly three weeks later, and his subconscious still keeps the memories at bay.

“I do not recall the explosion,” says Payne.  “I didn’t hear the explosion, or feel the explosion.  The people who found me, I was in a sitting position—is what they tell me—my eyes were open and fixed, my boots were in one place and I was in another.  In other words, I was blown out of my boots.”

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But, he was still alive.  Soul searing sorrow would follow when the veteran volunteer firefighter learned than many of his friends and colleagues died in the blast.

“We lost some of our best men… the guys that were always willing to be there, the guys that got up in the middle of the night, the guys that were late to work to help fight a fire.”  As the heartache threatens to overcome composure, Payne pauses, only to add:  “These guys were just the cream of the crop.”

Investigators have ruled out anything the first responders could have done while fighting the fire that could have triggered the explosion.  Still, Payne is anxious for answers, in the hope of preventing a future disaster.

“There [are ] some industrial incidents that you just can’t anticipate or prepare for.  And I think we did the best job we could.  We went in there to try to get the fire out.  But, we realized very quickly that wasn’t going to happen.  We were ready to pull out, but it just did not allow us enough time to do that.”

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