Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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May 15, 2014

State agency to report on West fertilizer plant blast

DALLAS —

The men who died last year fighting a fire at a Texas fertilizer plant that then exploded have been called heroes, but they have also been called victims of a failed system.

Officials from the State Fire Marshal's Office on Thursday plan to meet with residents of West to present the findings of their line-of-duty report examining the deaths of the 10 first-responders and two volunteers who were killed in the blast 13 months ago at the West Fertilizer Co. plant.

Among those who perished was Perry Calvin of Frost.

Fire Marshal Chris Connealy said Wednesday that he would discuss the report after meeting with the victims' families.

Many of the first responders' widows, children and friends still live in the town of 2,800, known as a close-knit community with a strong Czech heritage inherited from the immigrants who settled there a century ago.

Some of them attended a meeting last month held by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, an oversight agency that conducted a separate investigation into the blast. The safety board said the firefighters didn't know enough about what they faced inside the plant: 40 to 60 tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical used as a fertilizer, but also an industrial explosive.

Residents who spoke sought to defend the firefighters, most of whom were volunteers, and cited potentially conflicting guidance on how to respond to situations like the one at the plant. West Mayor Tommy Muska, who is also a volunteer firefighter, questioned whether investigators needed to focus more on the production of the ammonium nitrate, including ways to make it chemically safer.

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