LODD Anniversary: 10 Firefighters Killed in Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

Remember the fallen with lessons learned

Side view of Brush Truck F-6. Truck has been moved from its location at the time of the explosion. (NIOSH Photo.)

NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program

The NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program has released the line of duty death report of 10 firefighters killed in a plant explosion in Texas on April 17, 2013

Read the Report
9 Volunteer Fire Fighters and 1 Off-Duty Career Fire Captain Killed by an Ammonium Nitrate Explosion at a Fertilizer Plant Fire

Revised on January 20, 2015 to address comments from the Institute of Makers of Explosives to remove potentially confusing references to “incipient” fires and to add reference to IME’s ammonium nitrate best practice guidelines.

On April 17, 2013, ten 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 5 volunteer fire fighters with the city’s volunteer fire department, and 4 volunteer fire fighters from 3 neighboring volunteer fire departments who were attending an emergency medical services (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 fire fighters 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.

Contributing Factors:

  • Non-recognition of the hazards associated with ammonium nitrate
  • Limited pre-incident 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

Key Recommendations:

  • Fire departments should conduct pre-incident planning inspections of buildings within their jurisdiction to facilitate development of safe fireground strategies and tactics, especially for high hazard / high risk structures and occupancies
  • Fire departments should have a written risk management plan, use risk management principles at all structure fires and especially at incidents involving high risk hazards
  • Fire departments should develop, implement and enforce a written Incident Management System to be followed at all emergency incident operations
  • Fire departments should ensure that fire fighters wear a full array of turnout clothing and personal protective equipment appropriate for the assigned tasks
  • Fire departments should ensure that fire fighters are trained to standards that meet or exceed NFPA 1001 Standard for Fire Fighter Professional Qualifications.

Additionally, governing agencies (federal, state, regional, and local municipalities) should:

  • Consider requiring automatic sprinkler systems, performing regular fire inspections, and other types of active fire prevention methods in industrial facilities, especially those with high risk / high hazard inventory
  • Consider following the most current safe handling procedures for ammonium nitrate fertilizer storage and handling.

CSB West TX Incident Animation, U.S. Chemical Safety Board




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