Honor guard stands vigil for fallen firefighters in West

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by JONATHAN BETZ / WFAA

WFAA

Posted on April 22, 2013 at 9:29 AM

WEST, Texas — A public memorial for the victims of the fertilizer plant explosion in West is set for Thursday at Baylor University.

It will take place at the Ferrell Center on the Baylor campus at 2 p.m.

There's no word yet on which officials may attend the event. President Obama will be in North Texas that day for the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center on the SMU campus.

Fallen Dallas Fire Rescue Capt. Kenneth Harris Jr. will lie in repose at a West funeral home starting Monday morning. His funeral is set for 2 p.m. Wednesday at Church of the Assumption Catholic Church in West.

Harris lived in West with his family while working as a Dallas firefighter. He wasn't on duty at the time of the explosion, but rushed to help the volunteers who were trying to deal with the initial fire.

Throughout the weekend, we've seen images of first responders honoring their fallen brothers — firefighters, police and paramedics escorting the bodies and standing guard.

It's a grim job that's only just beginning.

Not since September 11 have so many first responders been lost at once.

The deaths have devastated families, communities and the brotherhood of firefighters.

Few have felt the pain of West. Ten first responders suddenly gone, but not left behind.

Within minutes of Wednesday's fertilizer plant explosion, firefighters across the state rushed to their fallen brothers.

"We're not leaving them alone," pledged Grapevine Fire Department Capt. Jamey Shipler. "They're going to be taken care of."

For Shipler, it's a calling, if not a somber duty.

"We want to take care of our own," he said. "We want to make sure that they know we are here for them."

The honor guard stands by the bodies — from the site of the explosion to the halls of the funeral home, firefighters are always nearby, standing at attention, every hour of every day until the burial.

"They went out to protect others; they gave the ultimate sacrifice; and we're there to protect them," said honor guard member Terry Wygal.

He and others are honoring people like:

There were many others, all killed protecting fellow citizens.

It is an honor now returned.

"That's why we're there 24 hours a day, to make sure that they're not left behind until they're at their final resting place," said Wendy Norris of the Texas Line of Duty Task Force.

With so many lost and so many funerals ahead, the honor guard expects to continue its somber duty for many days to come.

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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