NewsWest 9 Special Report: Back to West - Part II - KWES NewsWest 9 / Midland, Odessa, Big Spring, TX: |

NewsWest 9 Special Report: Back to West - Part II

By Geena Martinez
NewsWest 9

WEST, TX - The entire town of West, TX, was affected by the deadly fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 people and injured hundreds more.

One group who was hit the hardest was the first responders, but since that time, they've rebuilt themselves too.

"I got about halfway back to my truck when it blew and that's the last thing I remember," West Fire Chief, George Nors, said. "I woke up and I remember looking toward where the fire was and there was nothing there. It was gone."

In just seconds on April 17, 2013, the small town of West was forever changed.

A fire lead to an explosion at the fertilizer plant that killed 15 people and flattened parts of the city. Nine of those who died were first responders for the West EMS and West Fire Department.

The memories of that day are still very fresh but especially for those who were heading toward the blaze.

Nors was one of them.

"He said 'We need all we got because it was a bad fire' so that's when I decided to go ahead and take one of the trucks out myself," Nors said.

Nors lost five of his guys in the blast and he wasn't alone.

"They were very special to us and we will never forget them," Dr. George Smith said.

Dr. Smith is the Medical Director for West EMS and for the nursing home.

He was evacuating residents from the nursing home when the blast happened.

"The ceiling tile, the air conditioning ducts, the lights and roof all fell in on me," Dr. Smith said. "I knew the fertilizer plant was on fire and I knew something must've blown up but I had no idea what."

He lost four EMT's that day.

Chief Nors said everyone is still coping. Both men said burying their fallen brothers was the hardest of it all.

"It's hard," Nors said. "Every time we come to the station, we see the pictures, we've got pictures inside, we've got a lot of items that have been brought to us. It's hard."

To add to the heartbreak, the explosion destroyed the entire West EMS building. Both departments also lost emergency vehicles and equipment.

"An ambulance cost about $150,000 and that's a base ambulance. That's no equipment, that's no stretcher," Dr. Smith said.

"We lost one tanker, one grass rig and one engine," Nors said. 

There's no doubt it was tough but almost seven months later, the departments are making progress. A new EMS building is under construction in the same place it once stood.

In the meantime, they're working out of a construction trailer near the fire station.

Dr. Smith said it'll be a huge relief once it's finished.

"We're a big family. This is where we can meet in this building, we come in here and we play cards, we drink coffee," he said. "The morale of West EMS is gonna be much better when we get back in this building."

The fire department is pushing forward too. They've added five new faces to their station.

Chief Nors said they were flooded with people wanting to become volunteer firefighters in the weeks after.

Thanks to donations and help from the community and strangers, some vehicles have been replaced at both departments.

There's been an overwhelming amount of support that's displayed outside the fire station. Chief Nors said it's all humbling.

"There's a statue out on the corner of the building here. I don't know where it came from or anything, someone just brought it," he said. "Everybody just helps everybody. That's the kind of community we are."

Looking ahead, the fire department has stepped up training, even more than before.

EMS is trying to raise money for new training mannequins and work supplies.

We're told a memorial for the lives lost is planned near the blast site.

Even after everything they've been through, Dr. Smith said it could've been worse.

"We're very blessed in West," Dr. Smith said. "We were expecting 60-70 fatalities. We're coming back. We will never forget but the closer we can get to normal, the better."

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