Eight Days in West

Wednesday April 17th. I started getting news reports of a major explosion in the town of West just north of Waco, Texas with an unknown amount of firefighters hurt or killed. At the time I was a response member with the “Texas Line of Duty Death Task Force”. I was asked to be on standby for deployment, around midnight that call came in, we would be deploying at 5am

Thursday April 18th. The director of the Task Force and myself would be making the 4.5 hour drive from Houston together with other Task Force members coming in from around the State of Texas. Once in the town of West, the first meeting was with the Mayor of West, and the West EMS Chief, the news was not good, 11 firefighters missing and presumed dead. This was quickly becoming a worst case scenario! If this was true, this would be the largest loss of firefighters since the Charleston Sofa Super Store fire”, The Charleston 9, June 18, 2007, outside of 9/11. We started putting the call out to a large number of Task Force members for deployment. In the days to come we would know that 12 brothers have fallen, 2 of the 12 being honorary firefighters. The first big challenge would be finding hotel rooms for all the Task Force members, we needed 14 rooms. With the help of a number of Task Force friends we had them all at one hotel within a few hours in Hillsboro, Texas. The next and most important thing was setting up our organizational chart better known as “Org Chart”, did it ever get big. I don’t want to list the names of the command staff, but we had the best people for that job in place, my role would be Logistics Officer. At the time little did I know just how big this role would become.

Friday, April 19th. After our morning meeting with the Fire Chiefs of the affected Depts., the decision was made, a memorial service would take place on Thursday, time and place to be found. After this meeting the Abbett Fire Chief told me he had a contact at “Baylor University”. The call was made to make a site survey on Saturday. This would also be the day we recover the bodies of our fallen brothers. The planning for this would take most of the day so that our fallen brothers would be honored during this process. The plan quickly became, this would be done at night so that no media could see it. There would be a wall of honor with every one of our brothers drapped with an American flag. This process started around 10:30pm and finished around 2:30am.

Catch up on paperwork, phone calls, and daily Chiefs and FLO meeting.

Saturday, April 20th. Site survey at “Baylor University Ferrell Center” three of us went to do a site survey along with two Baylor staff members at Ferrell Center. The moment we walked onto the floor of the Center, we know this was the place we needed, with seating for 10,000, also this was the biggest place in that part of Texas. A walk though with most of the command staff would take place on Monday.

Catch up on paperwork, phone calls, and daily Chiefs and FLO meeting.

A Family Liaison Officer would be assigning each family, Family Liaison Officer “FLO” as we call them. The job of the FLO is to help the family in just about anyway possible and be the voice of the family along with so much more. By far the hardest job of any deployment. The Honor Guard Officer would also start placing Honor Guards at all locations our fallen brothers would be at. This would be a large undertaking, calling in Honor Guard units from around the State of Texas and from around the country. The call went out to the Charleston Fire Dept to see if they would be willing to come into town for some guidance, they would be sending three people our way within 24 hours!

Catch up on paperwork, phone calls, and daily Chiefs and FLO meeting.

Sunday, April 21st. We had a lunch for all the affected families at a secret location due to the high amount of media in West, it went off just as we planned it. The news media was asking for all kinds of interviews with the Task Force and the families. So we decided to give them something in hopes they would back off a little.  So Sunday night we let them do a story on why we post guards for our fallen brothers.

Catch up on paperwork, phone calls, and daily Chiefs and FLO meeting.

Monday, April 22nd. This would be the first of very long meeting filled days. Once we arrived at Ferrell Center, we were told that the Secret Service and White House advance teams would be on the ground Monday night. It wasn’t 20 minutes later we all started getting new reports that the President would be in West on Thursday. We had no clue as to just how this could or would change our planning for the memorial service. We would have our first meeting with them on Tuesday morning.

Catch up on paperwork, phone calls, and daily Chiefs and FLO meeting.

Tuesday, April 23rd. Meeting at 10am with Baylor,  Secret Service and White House at Ferrell Center, but first a 9am meeting with West, City Council. After City Council was updated we needed to be 25 miles away in 30 minutes! Once we made it to Ferrell Center and started our meeting with Baylor, Secret Service and White House, little did we know it would be a 6 hour meeting to just get all party’s up to speed. Can’t really talk about want was covered in this meeting but very little changed as for the memorial service. More meetings with all party’s on Tuesday.

Catch up on paperwork, phone calls, and daily Chiefs and FLO meeting

Wednesday, April 24th. Last day to make it right! Meeting starts at 10am at Ferrell, 6 hours later our plan for the memorial service was set, all party’s working it were in place, we were happy along with Baylor, Secret Service, and White House. But nothing like a last-minute change. Myself and our IC were pulled from a Baylor, Secret Service, and White House meeting by the DPS-DDC Captain to go over our plans as to getting the families to Ferrell. We reviewed our plan with him. He ask why we are not using charter buses. No resource, sir, other than we can not find any charter buses in this part of the state. Not 20 minutes later we had 10 charter buses coming our way at no cost! Wow, we made some good friends high up! This would also be the day all Honor Guards having a roll in the memorial service would do their walk though. Once the caskets were in place on the floor of Ferrell and flag drapped. Let me add here. When I walked out onto the floor and seen all 12 in places with the photo’s of the fallen, its was just about more than I could take. The walk through went awesome, the Ferrell Center was set to be seen by an untold amount of people around the world! I could not wait for the world to see how Texas Firefighters take care of our fallen brothers!

Catch up on paperwork, phone calls, and daily Chiefs and FLO meeting.

Thursday, April 25th. The day the Fire Service honors our fallen brothers! This day started early for some of our staff, 5:30am. Secret Service would be doing their last sweep of Ferrell starting at 7:00am with plans of a soft opening for staff at 10:00am, they opened it at 9:30am, awesome job guys! Our families would have a van pick them up where ever they were staying, starting at 9:00am. The van would then take them to a secret location, transferring  them to charter buses for transport to Ferrell at 11:00am. Our FLO’s did an amazing job getting all of them to the needed locations! All 500 plus Family members made it to Ferrell Center safe and sound, yes 500 plus! Baylor had lunch waiting for all 500 plus. The doors to Ferrell open at 11:00am for the public. This is when things started moving real fast! Just getting all 500 plus down onto the floor to their seating was a large job. Then we had what we called the Platinum 60, this was the group of family members that would be meeting the President after the service. As you know, the memorial service was amazing, again more than I could take at times. The Pipe’s and Drum’s were amazing, I even seen a few Secret Service with a tear in their eyes. That is what we had hope for, to bring a tear to everyone’s eye. After the service the families started making their way back to their holding area. I had so many of them come up to me and say. it was amazing, Thank You. No thanks needed, that what firefighters do for our fallen. All the families were loaded back onto the charter buses, back to secret location and back home safe and sound.

My Reflection of the week. As a 29 year firefighter, it was an honor to work alongside some of the most amazing people in the world! I’m not even going to try to put it into words the feelings I had over the week, other than I hurt deep down inside at times. For my wife and son to support me like they did and do in my time of need, Thank You, I love y’all more than ever! For my friends that would text or call me to see if I was ok, Thank You with all my heart! This was only my second deployment with the Task Force, WOW was it ever one for the sad record books! I pray the fire service never has to go though this again, but if it does happen, I will be right there in the front of the line waiting to go help my brothers.

I have a long list of Thank You’s

La Porte Fire Dept, Thank You for giving my the time off for this deployment. Every Member of the Texas Line of Duty Death Task Force, The People of West, Charleston Fire Dept, South Carolina State Firefighters Association, West Fire Dept, West EMS, Abbett Fire Dept, Brucesville Eddy Fire Dept, Mertnel Fire Dept, Dallas Fire Dept, Waco Fire Dept, Austin Fire Dept, Fire Service Honor Guards Units from around the country, Austin Police Dept, Baylor University, Baylor Police, Secret Service Advance Team, White House Advance Team, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Game Wardens, Texas Forestry Department, McLennan County Sheriff Department, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Houston Police Department, Patriot Guard, Care Flight, Hood County OEM, State of Texas OEM, Crosscreek Television Productions, National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, Firehouse Subs Dallas & Waco, Bushes Chicken, Batesville Casket, Texas State Technical College, Texas State Technical College Police, Econo Lodge Hillsboro Texas, Bearcom, Hobby Lobby Waco, Mercy Chefs, The little Mexican restaurant across from our hotel Thanks for staying open late!

I just know I’m missing a few, I’m so sorry for that, you are all ROCKSTARS!

To our FLO’s. Guy’s I can’t begin to say just what you mean to all of us. Y’all had the hardest job of all and did it and continue to do it like no other! To go into the home of a fallen brother and develop the trust that you did with the families, that’s the true meaning of Brotherhood! You all have my number, if you need anything, call!

The Command Staff. It was truly an honor to work alongside each and every one of you! I know we had some real tough times over the last week and we all vented a few times, but we honored our fallen brothers in the end as a TEAM! I love all of you but I hope it’s a long time before I see y’all again.

Thank you

Tony

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