Recent Texas firefighter LODDs inspire others to train harder

One of the firefighters killed at West was slated to train at TEEX


By Andrea Salazar
The Eagle

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — A West volunteer firefighter was supposed to be among the thousands descending on College Station for fire training this week.

He had pre-registered for fire school before the West Fertilizer plant explosion in April, but perished along with 13 others that night.

"It was hard, and it's still hard for some of us," West Fire Chief George Nors Sr. said, remembering the night of April 17 and the days that followed. "We take it day by day. It'll never go away."

Almost 2,500 firefighters, most from the state of Texas, are participating in the 84th annual Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service's Municipal Fire School this week.

The importance of that training was reinforced by the nearly two dozen line-of-duty deaths in Texas so far this year, two of them in Bryan.

"[Loss] has a profound effect on firefighters. Veteran firefighters feel it a lot," said Captain Leroy Chaddick of the Wichita Falls Fire Department. "That's why we come here to teach younger firefighters to become old firefighters."

Area firefighters, from College Station, Bryan and the volunteer fire departments, participated in the school as students and instructors.

Brazos County Pct. 4 Volunteer Fire Chief Joe Ondrasek, an instructor at the fire school and battalion chief for the Bryan Fire Department, said those real-life scenarios and losses can be teaching tools.

"You use what's going on in the fire service and how firefighters are dying as a training tool to teach whatever subject matter it is you're teaching," Ondrasek said.

Bryan Fire Chief Randy McGregor is spending the week as part of a safety team making sure everyone was in proper gear and following procedure during trainings. Having lost two of his own in the fire at the Knights of Columbus Hall in February, McGregor said the fatal incidents this year serve as "talking points to reinforce how dangerous this job is."

To keep firefighters up to date on the latest tactics and techniques, the College Station Fire Department sent five firefighters to the training as students, Captain Joe Warren said.

"Every firefighter has a responsibility to make sure that you're trained and up to date," Warren said. "It's up to me to make sure I come home at the end of the shift. Safety starts with [the firefighter], not with the chief or the safety officer."

While the year's fatal incidents have pushed the focus more toward safety and self-preservation, Pct. 4 Lt. Dan Williams, a volunteer firefighter for 12 years serving as an instructor, said there's only so much firefighters can control.

"So much of what goes on ... we don't have control over," Williams said as hundreds gathered to watch as firefighters practiced their skills during TEEX's public burn Wednesday. "That's what's gotten everybody this year. That's not to say that any firefighter did anything wrong on the scene, it's just that there's so much in firefighting that's unknown."

As his family watched a clown show about fire safety during the public burn event, Heath Murff, a volunteer firefighter from Latexo, said knowing so many have died in the line of duty motivated him to train harder.

"I want to make sure I go back to my wife and kids after every fire," he said.

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(c)2013 The Eagle (Bryan, Texas)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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