Five years ago, countless lives changed in an instant when an explosion ripped through the City of West. The blast took the lives of 15 people and injured more than 200 after the West Fertilizer Plant exploded April 17, 2013.
For Waxahachie firefighter and West resident, Jason Eubanks, the explosion is a memory he won’t forget.
Eubanks was at his home having dinner when the fertilizer plant exploded. His house was only six blocks away from the plant. He shared that it was an eye-opening moment.
“It was different than any other disaster that we have been deployed to before. When Hurricane Ike hit, we went down to Bridge City. We went to Houston and then to Port Author for Hurricane Harvey,” Eubanks said. “Both of them, there was a lot of devastation, and a lot of people were affected by what happened, but West was different to me because it was a place that I grew up. It was a place that I had been since I was a child.”
Eubanks used his knowledge and training of working with others to help pull people out of an apartment complex and a nursing home located near the plant. A triage area was established on a baseball field, and he soon began to give medical care to patients. When first responders arrived from Ellis County, Eubanks joined up with them to continue rescue efforts.
“I feel like God puts you in the places that you need to be at certain times. I truly believe that I was at home for a reason to help out that day instead of being at work. I was lucky that the department let me stay out there and help out during those two weeks,” Eubanks explained. “It made me appreciate my job and appreciate things around me because a lot of people lost things in a matter of seconds. It is still emotional. It still hits home. It is tough for me all of the time.”
Eubank added that experiencing a painful moment like the West explosion makes you appreciate your family, friends, and the times that you share together. He feels his service as a first responder is not just a job but is a calling.
“It (West) made me a better fireman. It really did. I was able to go in there and was able to set up one of the triage areas at the apartment complex. My job helped me to do that,” Eubanks stated. “I appreciate things a lot better now where some things you take for granted. Your time, your life and your family you can take for granted. When something like that happens people are gone in a second, you don’t get that time back. I lost some good friends that day.”
Eubanks stated at the time of the incident he was not scheduled to be on the rotation for the Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid task force, but fellow Waxahachie firefighter Tony Townley gave up his spot on the team for Eubanks to be there.
"That is something that I could never repay Tony for. If I had been here (Waxahachie) there would have been no way that my mind would have been on my job,” Eubanks said. “Being down there at least I knew I was home and I was able to help down there.”
He added that working on a task force together brings people together and strengthens friendships because of the close working conditions.
Eubanks shared the attitude he brings to the job has not changed at all. He is still focused on the people he serves each day.
“When you get hired onto this job you are going into it to help people. You’re not going in for a paycheck,” Eubanks explained. “You’re going in because you want to help and make a difference to help people’s lives.”