Firefighters Not at Fault in Texas Disaster

     WEST, Texas (CN) - The 12 firefighters who died fighting a fire at the West Fertilizer Co. were not adequately trained or prepared to fight such a complex fire, Texas fire investigators concluded in a report.
     The Texas State Fire Marshal's Office presented its findings Thursday after a year-long investigation into the April 2013 ammonium nitrate explosion that flattened large sections of the town of West, killed 15 people and injured hundreds.
     According to the agency's 55-page report , the members of the West Volunteer Fire Department are blameless, as they performed their duties as they were trained.
     "The analysis does, however, indicate a systemic deficiency in the training and preparation of the West VFD to adequately prepare for the incident they encountered at the West Fertilizer Company fire," the report states. "Had best practices been followed, the situation in West, Texas, on April 17, 2013, could have been prevented."
     The agency said firefighters were not trained or equipped to conduct the operation involving "a large commercial occupancy" filled with explosive, hazardous materials.
     "Firefighters were committed to attacking a fire that was significantly beyond the extinguishment stage, with few resources and a limited water supply," the report said. "The volume of fire could not be controlled by the limited flow that would have been available from the small hose lines that were deployed."
     Investigators said the firefighters' use of water was not a contributing factor to the explosion.
     The agency recommended that the fire department have standard operating procedures in place for emergency operations, and conduct visits to such facilities for better planning during a crisis. It also recommended the fire department have strategy and tactics in place for such a fire.
     "The fire department did not approach this fire as a commercial structure with hazardous materials, but rather initiated residential structural firefighting practices, with which they were familiar," the report states. "Fire department officers did not determine an appropriate firefighting strategy or coordinated tactical plan, which are key factors in controlling and mitigating fire incidents and protecting firefighters."
     The agency noted that Texas does not have minimum training standards for volunteer fire departments, which must nonetheless be properly trained and regularly evaluated.
     The agency also recommended that commercial buildings storing hazardous materials be retrofitted with automatic sprinkler systems
     The report's findings and recommendations are similar to those from a yearlong investigation by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. Announced in April, the CSB's report concluded the explosion could have been prevented with better oversight by regulatory officials.
     "It resulted from the failure of a company to take the necessary steps to avert a preventable fire and explosion and from the inability of federal, state and local regulatory agencies to identify a serious hazard and correct it," CSB chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said at the time.