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West, Texas, marks 10 years since blast killed 10 firefighters

NFFF continues to support the city following the fertilizer explosion, plus two recent struck-by incident LODDs


Candles burn at the front of a stage during a memorial service in West, Texas, on the one-year anniversary in 2014.

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Shortly after receiving notification of the traumatic loss of West, Texas, Firefighter Edward R. “Eddie” Hykel, Jr., who was struck on the interstate while working a vehicular incident, I had the opportunity to speak to West Mayor Tom Muska, who also serves as a volunteer with the West Volunteer Fire Department.

The purpose of my call was to offer condolences on behalf of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and to see what needs they may have that the Texas LODD Task Force, a part of the NFFF Local Assistance Sate Teams Program, could provide. Mayor Muska relayed that this most recent loss has hit the city hard, as many of the residents are just settling into their new normal level of peace, having lived through such a massive tragedy 10 years ago when a fertilizer plant explosion killed 10 firefighters. Eddie was a city employee, and the entire town knew him and appreciated all that he did to provide services to the residents. May he rest in peace.

Muska shared that Eddie’s death has opened up a lot of old wounds, but he hoped the anniversary activities would bring some calm back to the city along with more closure.

Traveling to West to attend the anniversary events brought back many emotions for myself and the NFFF team traveling with me. We all spent many weeks in the Katy Railroad Train Station, the original wood structure in the center of town that served as our satellite office while we were in West in 2013. It was literally along the rail line, and each day several trains passed through the town taking supplies and automobiles to and from some of the bigger cities in Texas. The train station was made available to us through the city government, and it provides us with a look at life in West – a small town to which we were now forever connected.

Ten years later, anniversary activities commenced with the premier of a new documentary titled “West, TX: Rising from Rubble.” The story of rebuilding West was shown in the historic theater in downtown Waco. Many families of fallen community members were present for the viewing, as were many other West residents. It was good to see so many familiar faces and have an opportunity to catch up and connect about their journey through the process of healing after tragedy.

Later that evening, tragedy hit the community again, as we learned about the death of Abbott Firefighter Horace Wright who was struck by his own fire apparatus on the same interstate where Eddie Hykel died just a week earlier.

The entire community was struggling, but several hundred members still gathered on Saturday to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the West explosion – a moment that seemed to help many of community members process all three tragedies. The service included a reading of the names of the fallen, musical selections, and special comments from local, state and federal representatives.

After the service, my team and I visited both the West Fire Station and the Abbott Fire Station and had an opportunity to speak to many of their members, including those who were on the call the night before. They were struggling but held strong as a department that has been dealt several significant tragedies over the years. Their commitment to delivery of service and to caring for the family and friends of their lost brothers was commendable.

The NFFF will be there to support them, just as we have in the past, and will continue to work with the Texas LODD Task Force to address all areas of concerns for both Abbott and West fire departments.

Chief Ronald Siarnicki began his fire service career with the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department in 1978 and progressed through the ranks to chief. In July 2001, Chief Siarnicki retired from the Prince George’s County to become the executive director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. He is a graduate of the master’s program, school of management and technology at the University of Maryland, University College and has a bachelor’s degree in fire science management from UMUC. Prior to joining the Prince George’s County, he served as a volunteer firefighter with the Monessen VFD Hose House 2 and currently serves with the United Communities VFD in Stevensville, Maryland. Siarnicki is a member of the FireRescue1/Fire Chief Editorial Advisory Board. Connect with Siarnicki on LinkedIn.