By Chief Yost Zakhary, IACP 1st Vice President
On April 17th, at about 7:55 p.m., I received a phone call from our Dispatch Center asking me if I was aware of an explosion in West, a community north of Woodway by about 20 miles. I shortly thereafter heard an “Emergency: All Units Available Respond” call– a call I have only heard 2 times previously in my 34-year career. The Woodway Police sergeant on duty made a decision to send everything we had available and we immediately took action.
As we all raced to the scene, the radio was full of chatter about multiple fatalities, schools on fire, exploded houses, a nursing home totally destroyed by the explosion, and an apartment complex completely demolished.
When I arrived I found a scene that I have never experienced before, one worse than any incident I have ever been to, including tornados to which I have responded. Some of our responders went to the fire scene and some went to the community center, where family and friends gathered and awaited news about loved ones.
The media started guessing and speculating, even commenting that 50-60 first responders had died. I went to the triage area, a converted football field. Our contract EMS service dispatched more ambulances than I could count. I believe I counted 9 EMS helicopters, as well as a state and a McLennan County police helicopter, not to mention all the news helicopters from the Dallas area, which is only about 70 air miles away.
What happened next was amazing. Our level one hospital activated their plan and treated over 100 patients in a matter of hours, efficiently transferring them to the appropriate locations. In total, 350 homes were affected, an apartment complex and a nursing home were completely destroyed, the EMS building was damaged beyond repair, and a community was left in total shock.
The entire state has rallied behind West, with the number one question I have continually been asked being, “How can I help, and how can I make sure the funds are appropriately distributed?”
The McLennan 100 Club is an organization established and vetted to accept donations which will then forward 100% of everything received to a designated fund. Their mailing address for this disaster is: “West Tragedy” C/O McLennan 100 Club, P.O. Box 21990, Waco, TX 76702; you may also visit the web site at http://www.mclennan100club.org.
The IACP is very supportive of the entire first responder community. I credit the cooperation among fire, EMS, police and others as what saved countless lives.