Hazmat, Industrial Firefighting, Leadership, Volunteer Fire Service

NIOSH Report on Firefighter Deaths in West (TX) Fertilizer Plant Blast

Photos from West fertilizer explosion scene
Photos from West fertilizer explosion scene. NIOSH

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Firefighter Fatality and Investigation Program has a report on the firefighters killed in the West (TX) Fertilizer Plant Explosion in April 2013.

Texas State Fire Marshals: West (TX) Fertilizer Explosion Report Available

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Firefighter LODDs: Explosion in West, Texas: Lessons Learned from Multiple Deaths

On April 17, 2013, 10 emergency first responders (ranging in age from 26 to 52 and all male) were killed when a burning fertilizer plant containing an estimated 40 to 60 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded just outside the city limits. The explosion occurred less than 20 minutes after the emergency responders arrived on-scene. The victims included five volunteer firefighters with the city’s volunteer fire department, and four volunteer firefighters from three neighboring volunteer fire departments who were attending an EMS class in the city. One off-duty career fire captain and two civilians who responded to offer assistance to the volunteer fire department were also killed by the explosion.

The victims were among a number of first responders engaged in fire suppression and support activities and were in close proximity to the burning structure when the explosion occurred. Five other volunteer firefighters with the city’s fire department were injured. The two civilians were providing non-suppression support to the fire department when they were killed by the blast. Three civilians living nearby also died as the result of the blast.

Among the contributing factors noted in the report:

  • Non-recognition of the hazards associated with ammonium nitrate
  • Limited preincident planning of commercial facility
  • Fire quickly spread to an un-controllable size
  • Approximately 40-60 tons of solid ammonium nitrate unexpectedly detonated
  • Responders working within blast radius at time of explosion  
  • Large non-sprinklered, wood construction, commercial structure.

Read the entirety of the report at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face201311.html

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 Originally ran on November 14, 2014.