Fertilizer Plant Firms Blame Texas City for Deadly Blast

July 28, 2014

Two fertilizer companies sued following a deadly Texas explosion are claiming the small town deserves blame for failing to properly train volunteer firefighters and first responders, who made up most of the 15 people killed by the blast.

El Dorado Chemical Co. and CF Industries argued in a state district court in Waco that the city of West, which has about 2,800 people, had insufficient protocols in place to battle the April 2013 blaze at West Fertilizer Co. that triggered the explosion.

West, Texas, May 8, 2013 -- Norman Lenburg/FEMA
West, Texas, May 8, 2013 — Norman Lenburg/FEMA

The fertilizers suppliers are now seeking to have the city designated as a “responsible third party” in lawsuits filed against the companies, the Waco-Tribune Herald reported Saturday.

The Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office concluded in a report published in May that members of the West Volunteer Fire Department arrived at the scene that day unprepared for the dangers.

“The Texas State Fire Marshal also determined that strategies and tactics utilized by the WVFD were not appropriate for the situation and unnecessarily exposed the firefighters, many of whom have brought claims against the CF defendants in this matter, to extreme risks,” CF Industries says in the motion.

A motion from El Dorado also alleges that the city should be named as a responsible third party because it failed to protect its citizens by allowing through its zoning authority schools and a nursing home to operate in a close proximity to the plant.

Waco attorney Steve Harrison, who represents the city of West in the lawsuit as well as many of those killed or injured in the blast, said it is common in lawsuits for defendants to blame everyone but themselves.

“Some things really just don’t need any comment,” Harrison said.

West Mayor Tommy Muska, who also is a volunteer firefighter, declined comment on the motions by the company, saying he cannot discuss pending litigation on the advice of Harrison.

About 200 plaintiffs, including families of those killed and injured, have filed lawsuits in the wake of the blast. State District Judge Jim Meyer has divided them into three trials, with the first scheduled to begin in July 2015.

State investigators concluded that firefighters’ water didn’t cause the explosion, noting they were trying to stop a blaze “significantly beyond the extinguishment phase.”

Even as some first-responders expressed misgivings about the size of the fire, the firefighters did not pull back, according to the report. One of the West volunteer firefighters, Cody Dragoo, is quoted in the report as telling another firefighter that the building had ammonium nitrate but “it could never get hot enough for it to go off.” Dragoo died in the blast.

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