Cherokee County firefighters react to Texas fertilizer explosion - CBS46 News

Cherokee County firefighters react to Texas fertilizer explosion

Posted: Updated:

Members of the Station 21 hazardous materials team in Cherokee County said their hearts sank when they watched the massive explosion in West, TX.

"It kind of hits home because whether volunteer (firefighter) or career, it is just a normal night for them until something like that happened," Phillip Carlisle said. "No one expected that to happen, they were just going to do their job and put out the fire."

But the volunteer firefighters who responded to the fertilizer plant fire were engulfed in flames as the chemicals ignited, causing a massive explosion.

"Every situation scares you, because you have to respect that situation," Carlisle said.

Carlisle has been at Station 21 for five years. He said they train to go into some of the most dangerous environments filled with toxic gases and chemicals. For those instances, they wear a Level A suit. Which literally seals the firefighters off from the outside world, their only oxygen comes from a regulator and oxygen tank.

"We come to work every day and never know what the call will be, so we have to train for it and go through mock drills weekly," Carlisle said.

In Texas, the anhydrous ammonia used in the production of fertilizer is dangerous to breathe. Carlisle said it is also attracted to water and will cause eyes to burn, itchy skin, and make mucus membranes thicken in your body.

"If you are screaming from the ammonia, you are not going to be useful," Carlisle said.

There are certain hazmat situations in Cherokee County that the firefighters train for, but Carlisle said there is not a stockpile of fertilizer in the county that could mimic what happened in Texas.

"That is definitely a drastic scale, and a worst case scenario," Carlisle said.

Lt. Chad Davis said his heart and prayers are with the family of the people killed or injured by the blast. And it is difficult for Davis to know some volunteer firefighters are still unaccounted for.

"My first thought goes out to the firemen that respond to that call," Davis said. "As a company officer with five guys on my crew, I was just trying to imagine what it would be like, if I didn't know where one of them was on a scene. That is one of the reasons we stress accountability."

Authorities said at least five people have been killed, more than 160 have been injured. It is now under control, officials said, but there's still no word on the number killed by the blast.

Copyright 2013 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.