Volunteer firefighters have been hailed as heroes after they selflessly risked their lives on Wednesday, battling the roaring flames at a Texas fertilizer plant both before and after a devastating explosion razed the building to the ground.
According to the Associated Press, a team of volunteer firefighters had arrived at the West, Texas, plant on Wednesday night after a fire was reported. Quickly realizing the potential danger because of the plant's substantial cache of chemicals, the firefighters worked quickly to evacuate the area.
Twenty minutes later, an explosion ripped through the plant.
What is believed to have been a terrible industrial accident, the blast not only leveled the plant, but it destroyed dozens of homes and businesses in the vicinity. As many as 15 people are feared dead, and more than 160 have been injured.
Local businessman and volunteer firefighter Marty Marak's home was utterly demolished, and his dog was killed by the blast, according to CNN. But despite his own personal losses and the risk of more danger, Marak -- together with many other volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel -- rushed to the site of the explosion to help battle the terrifying blaze. There were concerns that if the fires continued to rage that they would trigger yet another blast.
"I'm begging him to come home, to let me come and get him…but he said he can't. He's going to stay with his guys," Marak's wife, Cheryl, told CNN of the conversation she had with her husband late on Wednesday night.
Thanks to the courageous efforts of Marak and other volunteers, the fires were largely under control by 11 p.m.
Tragically, the heroism of the first responders may have come at an awful cost: According to Dallas Morning News, three to four volunteer firefighters remain missing as of Thursday morning.
"Most people don’t realize that more than 70 percent of America’s firefighters are volunteers," CBS' Peter Greenberg wrote on his website. "Last night, in the town of West, Texas, those heroes sprang into action."
According to CNN, all 33 firefighters in West are volunteers.
"This has been a long and tragic week in the emergency services community in the United States. We witnessed the tragedy of the Boston bombings on Monday afternoon and the heroism of the firefighters, police officers, and everyday citizens who rushed toward the blast scene to help those who had been injured. In many cases, they did this with the knowledge that secondary blasts were a possibility and placed their lives in danger to help others," wrote Mike Snyder, a volunteer firefighter, in a blog post for the Guardian on Thursday.
"The same spirit is active in the town of West, Texas where the volunteer fire department answered a call for a fire at the West Fertilizer Co on Wednesday. People who normally work as auto mechanics or barbers or teachers or lawyers or myriad jobs drop what they are doing to respond to an emergency and serve their community," Snyder continued.