Responders commended for swift action

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Bellville residents who live near Western International Gas on Highway 159 had quite a scare July 17 when an explosion prompted evacuations not only of the plant but a five-mile radius in the immediate vicinity.

Austin County Sheriff Jack Brandes said dispatchers received a call about an explosion around 6 a.m. and Bellville Volunteer Fire Department – the first responders on the scene – almost immediately called for backup.

Responders took swift action, even leaving the scene briefly in order for the fire to cool so they could safely get back in to extinguish it. Residents cooperated with the evacuation order and no one was hurt.

“No injuries and the public wins,” Brandes said. “We are here for public safety. That’s what you hired us to do.”

Calls to Western International on Monday afternoon were not answered, and an email request for a company statement did not immediately elicit a response.

Bellville Volunteer Fire Department officials also could not be reached Monday but issued a thank-you message late on the evening of July 17 after evacuees were safely returned to their homes.

“We would like to extend a big thank you for all the support we received today in fighting the Western International fire,” the statement read. “From EMS to law enforcement and especially the responding fire departments from both within and outside Austin County, we could not have done it without you. In addition, Bellville and the surrounding communities came together and supplied responders with much-needed water, ice, Gatorade and delicious food and desserts. Just another shining example of the wonderful communities we live in.”

Brenda Stewart of the American Red Cross/Mass Care said she was honored to work alongside the first responders.

“What we have learned over the years is that the small towns make our job so easy, we just become one of the local team,” she said. “These communities come together in such a big way and so fast that everyone gets taken care of. It is like a well-oiled machine.”

The Red Cross volunteer went on to thank all those who offered assistance.

“From the firefighters and police officers all the way down to the moms, dads and kids who dropped off supplies, this was most definitely a great big group effort,” Stewart said.

Sheriff Brandes emphasized the teamwork among numerous different agencies. EMS, firefighters and police officers from Austin County, Waller County and Harris County responded along with HazMat officials, Department of Public Safety troopers and game wardens.

“The firefighters, law enforcement and others who stepped up to the plate were very professional,” Brandes said. “I was very impressed by all of the entities, including the folks who work at Western International. Safety is their priority.”

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