Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

April 19, 2013

WEST EXPLOSION: Local firefighter remembers Harris

By Raymond Linex II
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — Shane Farmer and the firefighters on his shift at Dallas’ No. 30 station knew when Kenny Harris came in antsy, it usually meant additional chores. Painting fire hydrants. Cleaning the stove or refrigerator. Waxing the floors.

“When his boys would do something at home and get in trouble, he’d make them cut wood,” Farmer said. “They sold firewood. So when he’d come in antsy, and we knew we were going to be doing something extra that day, we’d say something like, ‘Cap, what did the boys do? Why do we have to cut wood because the boys got in trouble?’”

It was all in fun, but that’s the way ‘Cap,’ as he was called on his shift, preferred it.

Harris, 52, known as Luckey to his family and friends, Farmer said, died in Wednesday night’s fertilizer plant explosion in West. The Dallas fire captain lived in West, and was off that day, and relaxing with friends when the fire broke out.

Farmer, an almost 15-year Dallas firefighter and paramedic veteran who lives in Mildred, and other guys on his shift were on duty at the fire station at Royal and Zodiac at the time of the explosion. Harris had taken the day off.

It didn’t take long for the 57 stations and 1,600 uniformed Dallas fire employees to start connecting the dots.

“We got calls all night long,” Farmer said. “He was loved, and respected.”

Harris had been Farmer’s captain the last six years.

The last call Farmer took was at 2:30 a.m., from Harris’ oldest son, a Dallas firefighter housed at station No. 51. “Cap” was among the missing.

A family friend drove Harris, in nothing more than jeans and a T-shirt, close to the fire. Harris jumped out, and told the friend to “get out of here,” Farmer said.

“‘These guys have never seen anything like this,’” Farmer said the family friend recalled Harris saying. “‘If you smell ammonia, get out of here.’”

Five minutes later, the plant exploded, Farmer said.

Station No. 30 is prepared to deal with all kinds of chemical fires, Farmer said. It sits nestled near an industrial area, and they never know what they may find. Harris was very safety-minded, he said.

“He knew (Wednesday’s fire) was bad,” said Farmer, who speculated Harris likely wanted to try to get the others away from the fire. “But at the time (of the explosion), he was seen helping them” fight the fire.

“I just don’t think he knew it was that grave.”

Early Thursday morning, Farmer joined the rest of his shift, and three other Dallas firefighters who have moved on from No. 30, in West to help exhume the body of their captain. They visited with the family, and tried to comfort Harris’ wife Holly and his three boys, the younger two who drove in from Midland, where they work in the oil fields, Farmer said.

They were allowed to load his body, and they stayed to be a part of the honor guard with peers from around the state for the other 10 first responders who lost their lives that day, including Navarro Mills volunteer Perry Calvin.

Farmer didn’t know Calvin. “I talked to his crew” in West, Farmer said. “I wish I would have known him.”

After a long day, Farmer returned home about 1 a.m. Friday.

“It was a long day, and a long night,” Farmer said. “But it was a long night too (Wednesday) at the station when people started calling.”

Harris led a loose group. The mood at the station was generally light. He was never mad, always smiling, a genuine good guy. Harris had bought a large boat last summer, docked on the Texas coast. A station fishing trip was in the works.

“If you could have met him, you’d think he was great,” Farmer said.

His sons were great athletes, and he and Farmer had that in common. When their 24 hour shifts would start, they’d sit around the station and drink coffee, and talk about the two days they just had off.

“He’d say, ‘How did baby girl do at her ballgame?,’” Farmer said. “Baby girl” is Shane’s daughter Olivia, a senior at Mildred who excelled at several sports and who has signed to play softball next year at Navarro.

Families would often stop by the station. They often visited their families during holidays there.

Saturday morning, Farmer and four of his Dallas fire brethren will check back in at 7 a.m. for the first shift since getting off Thursday morning.

“There’s going to be an emptiness at the station,” he said. “He was a good one. He took care of us.”

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Raymond Linex II may be reached by email at rlinex@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com