WEST, Tex. — Three-tenths of a mile from this town’s own ground zero, barely more than 24 hours after an explosion at a fertilizer plant tore through people’s houses and hearts, dozens of firefighters and emergency responders stood at attention.Read the rest here.
Their hands raised to their brows in salute, they faced one another in two lines in the parking lot of a school, forming two walls of blue as the body of a fellow firefighter was escorted between them in the night. A bagpiper blew “Amazing Grace” as the remains, draped in an American flag, were placed in a vehicle.
It was a ritual they performed over and over — once for every person discovered in the wreckage who had been affiliated with a fire department. The scale of the disaster could be measured by the length of the ceremony; the firefighters and responders stood in the cold for about two hours, forming an honor guard 12 times for 12 bodies.
“We’re family,” said Joe Ondrasek, 46, a fire official from Brazos County who stood in salute that night and had traveled here to represent the State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Association of Texas. “It’s like losing your family. It’s like six members of your family got killed in a car wreck. That’s what it is, at that level.”