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

Growing up

The following is funny story we’d like to share with you, to help you enjoy your day.

Names & Places have been changed to protect all parties…..lol

Before you read this make sure you have kleenex with you to wipe out the tears from laughter. My stomach still hurts.

Life as a child growing up in Oklahoma….

Around age 10 my dad got me one of those little badass compound bow beginner kits. Of course, the first month I went around our land sticking arrows in anything that could get stuck by an arrow. Did you know that a 1955 40 horse Farmall tractor tire will take 6 rounds before it goes down? Tough sumbich. That got boring, so being the 10 yr. old Dukes of Hazard fan that I was, I quickly advanced to taking strips of cut up T-shirt doused in chainsaw gas tied around the end and was sending flaming arrows all over the place. One summer afternoon, I was shooting flaming arrows into a large rotten oak stump in our backyard. I looked over under the carport and saw a shiny brand new can of starting fluid (Ether). The light bulb went off in my head. I grabbed the can and set it on the stump. I thought that it would probably just spray out in a disappointing manner. Lets face it, to a 10 yr old mouth-breather like myself, (Ether), really doesn’t “sound” flammable. So, I went back into the house and got a 1 pound can of pyrodex (black powder for muzzle loader rifles). At this point, I set the can of ether on the stump and opened up the can of black powder. My intentions were to sprinkle a little bit around the (Ether) can but it all sorta dumped out on me. No biggie, a 1 lb. pyrodex and 16 oz (Ether) should make a loud pop, kinda like a firecracker you know? You know what? Screw that, I’m going back in the house for the other can. Yes, I got a second can of pyrodex and dumped it too. Now we’re cookin’. I stepped back about 15 ft and lit the 2 stroke arrow. I drew the nock to my cheek and took aim. As I released I heard a clunk as the arrow launched from my bow. In a slow motion time frame, I turned to see my dad getting out of the truck… OH SHOOT! He just got home from work. So help me God it took 10 minutes for that arrow to go from my bow to the can. My dad was walking towards me in slow motion with a WTF look in his eyes. I turned back towards my target just in time to see the arrow pierce the starting fluid can right at the bottom—right through the main pile of pyrodex and into the can. Oh shoot. When the shock wave hit it knocked me off my feet. I don’t know if it was the actual compression wave that threw me back or just reflex jerk back from 235 frickin’ decibels of sound. I caught a half a millisecond glimpse of the violence during the initial explosion and I will tell you there was dust, grass, and bugs all hovering 1 ft above the ground as far as I could see. It was like a little low to the ground layer of dust fog full of grasshoppers, spiders, and a worm or two. The daylight turned purple. Let me repeat this… THE FRICKIN’ DAYLIGHT TURNED PURPLE. There was a big sweetgum tree out by the gate going into the pasture. Notice I said “was”. That son-of-a-bitch got up and ran off. So here I am, on the ground blown completely out of my shoes with my thundercats T-Shirt shredded, and my dad is on the other side of the carport having what I can only assume is a Vietnam flashback: ECHO BRAVO CHARLIE YOU’RE BRINGIN’ EM IN TOO CLOSE!! CEASE FIRE. DAMN IT, CEASE FIRE!!!!! His hat has blown off and is 30 ft behind him in the driveway. All windows on the north side of the house are blown out and there is a slow rolling mushroom cloud about 2000 ft. over our backyard. There is a Honda 185 3 wheeler parked on the other side of the yard and the fenders are drooped down and are now touching the tires. I wish I knew what I said to my dad at this moment. I don’t know – I know I said something. I couldn’t hear. I couldn’t hear inside my own head. I don’t think he heard me either… not that it would really matter. I don’t remember much from this point on. I said something, felt a sharp pain, and then woke up later. I felt a sharp pain, blacked out, woke later….repeat this process for an hour or so and you get the idea. I remember at one point my mom had to give me CPR. and Dad screaming “Bring him back to life so I can kill him again”. Thanks Mom. One thing is for sure… I never had to mow around that stump again, Mom had been bitching about that thing for years, and dad never did anything about it. I stepped up to the plate and handled business. Dad sold his muzzle loader a week or so later. I still have some sort of bone growth abnormality, either from the blast or the beating, or both. I guess what I’m trying to say is, get your kids into archery. It’s good discipline and will teach them skills they can use later on in life.

Guest Blogger, Jeffery Maddron

The following Blog is from one of our Ambassador’s

As a public service professional/volunteer there is no bigger honor than serving your community. Unfortunately in this field also, that may include the ultimate sacrifice. I started my public safety career as a volunteer firefighter for the Hitchcock Volunteer Fire Department near Galveston, Texas. As I spent time as a firefighter starting back in 1998, I quickly loved the service and decided to pursue this as a career.

October 5th, 1999 will be a day that I will never forget. Texas City Fire Department Engine 3 was en route to a medical call at the local mall when it collided with another vehicle and tragically took the life of veteran firefighter and Captain William Bethune. While I may not have known Captain Bethune, this struck home being that I have worked with Texas City Fire Department several times on mutual aid calls. Outstanding group of guys in its entire department. This also sets forth the reality for me of the dangers of this job. But I did not waiver. Instead, I was the first recipient of the William Bethune scholarship with pays for your firefighter course and examination as well as your emt-basic course and examination at College of the Mainland which is the local community college.

When I saw Tony Constanzo post on taking applications for the Footsteps For The Fallen Ambassador Program, I wanted to apply because even though I am most likely not able to be a professional firefighter now due to disabilities from war, I am still a firefighter at heart and will always respect the service. When you see a funeral procession that is well over a mile long in just different fire apparatus, with units across the U.S, you know you are in a service where everyone has your back. This organization is no different. I choose Footsteps For The Fallen because of the ultimate sacrifice these firefighters have paid for.

Jeffery Maddron

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