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Fri November 01, 2013 - National Edition
In the world of heavy equipment, many words come to mind. Hard work, knowledge, expertise, and grit are a few but miracle is not normally one of them—until now.
Tragedies are exactly what they sound like…tragic. Sometimes even tragedies spawn miracles and bring out the very best in people. Everyone will remember the tragic events of April of 2013 when the West Fertilizer Plant in West, Texas, caught fire, resulting in two devastating ammonium nitrate explosions that killed 15 and injured more than 160 people.
In just moments following the explosions, hundreds of people from surrounding communities responded to help in any way possible. The devastation could only be described as a war zone. A 26-unit apartment complex just across the railroad track from the fertilizer plant was completely destroyed as was the West Rest Haven Retirement Home and an assisted living facility two and three blocks away.
Of the 153 residents and staff, miraculously, all went basically unscathed as they were evacuated via wheel chairs and beds with wheels. Mattresses were tossed out of windows to catch others. People flooded the facilities to help with the evacuation and transported the residents to the local football field a few blocks away for triage.
The West ambulance barn was destroyed along with three ambulances and three fire trucks were also consumed in the explosion. Any large city would have had a hard time handling the destruction, much less a town such as West with a population of only 2,807.
The entire community was shaken to their knees emotionally and economically, according to the Public Works Director and Captain of the West Volunteer Fire Department C.J. Gillaspie. “The fertilizer plant supplied product to farmers and ranchers for a 100 mile radius. Along with the retirement and assisted living facilities destruction, our economy is suffering some real strains,” said Gillaspie, noting that he too was not spared the devastation.
As captain of the fire department, he drove the first fire engine into the fire. While coordinating the other equipment, the explosion occurred and he lost two of his fire-fighting buddies as well as his home and his wife’s automobile.
“The entire town was in chaos as hundreds of people continued to show up to help. I counted over 250 fire trucks that had come from communities over 150 miles away,” said Gillaspie. “It was very heartening to see all the immediate help including drinking water, food, clothing and medical assistance, but after things started to settle down, all I could think about was how to repair our infrastructure including water and gas lines,” he continued.
The only assistance that followed was a continuous line of salesmen trying to sell their wares to help rebuild West. “Needless to say, even with our emergency funds, our budget was strained to the limit. At about that time, I looked up and saw Corky Underwood of Bayonet Breaker standing in my office.
’I tried to put him off, believing him to be just another salesman that I did not have time or money to deal with as he continued to tell me all about his Bayonet Breaker and all the things it could do to help rebuild our infrastructure.
’I had seen the Bayonet working at a jobsite and was very impressed, but all I could think of was that we did not have the money for such an item. I did my best to ignore him until I heard him say that he was here not to sell the Bayonet Breaker but to donate it. I could not believe my ears, but Corky now had my undivided attention.”
It was determined which breaker would work the best for the town’s needs and which machine could handle it most efficiently. Arrangements were made to haul the machine to the Bayonet Breaker facility in Prosper, Texas for the free installation. As fate would have it, the West haul truck broke down just shortly after the trip started.
“I called Corky and told him what had happened, so he sent his own crew and haul truck to pick up our machine. He did the free installation and delivered the Bayonet Breaker and would not let us pay him anything. My faith in mankind was truly renewed,” Gillaspie said.
According to Gillaspie, the Bayonet Breaker is the perfect machine for the job, which involves repairing water and gas lines, preparing new trenches and removing slabs from the burned out buildings. When exposing the ruptured pipes, the bucket is raised and the Bayonet is lowered down and locked into position to hammer and break-up the pipes in order for the bucket to easily remove the spoils. The operator never even has to leave the cab.
“Not only was the Bayonet Breaker donated to us with free installation, free transportation and a free warranty, it also eliminated the need for a second machine with a hammer or a quick disconnect hammer and a second employee to help maneuver the extra equipment,” said Gillaspie. “The Bayonet works like a charm, is easy to use and is regarded by the city of West, Texas as a real ’God Sent Miracle’ along with Corky Underwood and his Bayonet Breaker Company.”