WEST (May 16, 2013)—West Mayor Tommy Muska, in a letter distributed early Thursday to media outlets, says the city’s and the county’s emergency planning and response systems worked on April 17 when a fire at West Fertilizer Co. triggered a powerful explosion that left 15 dead and about 200 injured.
“The state and national media can second guess and armchair quarterback all they want,” Muska wrote.
“The fact remains that the West Volunteer Fire Department, assisted by many other well-trained first responders, accomplished the task in front of us that night, and that was the protection of the citizens of West,” he said.
“We evacuated half of our town, secured the affected area, searched for and rescued the injured, suppressed fires, and, in about two hours, transported more than 200 injured citizens to ready and waiting hospitals,” he said.
“Make no mistake,” he wrote, “’volunteer’ does not mean ‘under-prepared.’"
Reports have questioned whether West firefighters were aware of the danger posed by the chemicals stored at the plant, but Muska said the crews were fully aware “that hazardous chemicals were stored there,” and that they “quickly assessed the fire, and after a few short minutes, retreated to a safer, defensive firefighting position” while other first responders began moving residents away from the area.
Muska also defends McLennan County’s emergency management coordinator, Frank Patterson, who has been targeted in reports that question whether the county’s Local Emergency Planning Committee was fulfilling its mandate to provide information about hazardous substance risks and emergency planning.
Soon after the explosion, Muska says, Patterson arrived in West and set up an incident command post, “assessing and organizing the situation.”
He credits Patterson with helping the community “take the first, painful steps needed to return to our new normal.”