By Jack Fink

WEST (CBSDFW.COM) – Months after surviving the fertilizer plant explosion, which rocked the small town of West, volunteer firefighter Robert Payne has started going out on calls again. He took his first call in January.

Payne said he was one of the closest firefighters to the blast who survived. “Your heart starts racing at a different speed right now,” said Payne.

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Coping with the loss of his fellow firefighters out there with him that night is still a challenge. “It’s something you go through one day at a time.”

Even though one year has passed, time hasn’t healed all of the emotional wounds. “Just the guilt of being here, someone else losing their life trying to protect you and protect others, that’s the first hurdle you got to get over,” said Payne. It’s a huge hurdle he said since he knew the five fallen heroes from West all their lives.

“These guys were the cream of the crop, some of our best. The guys you could count on anytime of the day, any day of the week,” said Payne, who admits he doesn’t remember the blast itself.

He suffered a severe concussion, broken bones in the cheek, broken ribs, severe nerve damage in his right shoulder, a broken ankle and broken teeth. Payne recovered in the hospital for two weeks, then went to outpatient rehab for seven months.

“I did have a lot to deal with. I was very fortunate to be able to deal with it,” said Payne, who won’t consider moving out of West. He said he feels the very same way about the fire department he has served since 1986.

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“How could I walk away? If you love living in a small town like I do — serving the community and serving your fellow citizens is an integral part of how we feel. It takes some dedication.”

Follow Jack on Twitter:  @cbs11jack

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