Book to honor those who run into the fire, not away

By Rebecca Flannery

On April 17, 2013, the fertilizer plant explosion in West killed 15 people — 12 of whom were first-response firefighters. Amber Adamson, part-time lecturer in the department of journalism, public relations and new media, wrote a book entitled “The Last Alarm,” which compiled accounts from just under 50 responders from the plant explosion.

The book will be released the first week in May.

“There was a firefighter in full honor guard uniform standing on the railroad tracks out above the blast site before the bodies were recovered,” Adamson said. “It was so powerful knowing that there was that immediate sense of respect and honor, and that followed them until they were laid to rest. That image struck me and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be so powerful to talk to someone in their shoes and understand what they’re thinking what they’re feeling and doing?”

Adamson’s husband and brother are firefighters in McLennan County and were both involved in the effort to help West recover from the explosion. Adamson relied greatly on her connections to the fire department in order to write the accounts in the book.

“I knew that there were lots of stories being told,” Adamson said. “But I thought that I had a unique perspective in that I could talk to first-responders who were there not only the night of the explosion, but hours after as they begun to search and rescue and evacuate people to the hospital, all the way though to the process of honoring the fallen.”

After Adamson came up with the idea to compile stories, Sharon Bracken, senior lecturer in the department of journalism, public relations and new media, helped turn the accounts into a book through her own publishing company.

They, along with former director of student publications Stephanie MacVeigh, spent a year getting the book to where it is now.

“We mapped out what needed to be done,” Bracken said. “That was doing the interviews, doing the research and gathering the information. From there we started outlining what we wanted the book to look like, and then Adamson started writing.”

Adamson said the idea behind the book is to let the public see through the eyes of those who lived it, as well as to serve as a historical account of the explosion. Adamson interviewed a wide range of participants from volunteers to to those who attended the memorials and funerals.

“I don’t think that we could ever understand the mentality of first-responders because they’re a special group of people,” Adamson said. “Even being a wife and a sister, I still don’t understand why they run to the fire when the rest of us run the other way. Through this book I hope people get a glimpse of what it’s like.”

Although the accounts all focus on the same event, each story is unique to the person who spoke with Adamson. The event that was nationally known is still so intimate to the small town of West, and the outpouring of honor and respect that was shown to the people is reflected in the book’s accounts.

“Everyone who was there felt honored to be there,” Adamson said. “No one told me ‘no’ to being interviewed, but they all said ‘but why do you want to talk to me?’ They didn’t think anything they did was extraordinary — but everything they did was extraordinary.”

The book, will include the interviews Adamson conducted, photos that haven’t yet been released to the public and a list of 140 fire departments responsible for helping with the disaster.

Some of the recordings from the interview will be preserved and made available to the public on record with The Texas Collection.

“I think it’s a beautiful book,” Bracken said. “It’s telling stories of those who saw behind the yellow tape what happened that night. I think it’s a great collection.”

A portion of proceeds from the book sales will go to benefit the Texas Line of Duty Death Task Force. This volunteer group’s website defines themselves as having “provided assistance to dozens of families and departments and consulted with hundreds of department around Texas and across the country”

Essentially, the group aids those who have served as well as their families and communities cope with situations like the West explosion.

“It’s a big honor and big responsibility that they entrusted me with their stories,” Adamson said. “I just want to be able to tell their stories as best as possible.”