The vivid memories of April 17, 2013, have not faded for Joe Pustejovsky.
“The disaster that was obvious that day is what sticks in my mind, then the realization that Joey was there,” Pustejovsky said before a dedication ceremony Saturday for the City of West Fallen Heroes Memorial that honors the 15 people, including his son Joey Pustejovsky, who died in the fertilizer plant explosion in West almost six years ago.
Joey Pustejovsky was a West volunteer firefighter who responded to the initial 911 call about the fire at West Fertilizer Co. that led to the explosion, and was among 12 first responders who died in the blast.
“Joey answered all the fire calls, so we knew he was there,” Joe Pustejovsky said.
Those memories and hundreds more were shared during an indoor ceremony at West High School on Saturday morning.
Pustejovsky, a city council member, led a committee of 11 people who worked on the memorial over the past three years. Work on the memorial about 100 yards from the site of the explosion wrapped up last month.
A round of thunderstorms Saturday morning forced the ceremony from Parker’s Park and the memorial grounds into the high school’s auditorium.
Gov. Greg Abbott attended the the ceremony and spoke to the crowd as thunder rolled outside. He said he was honored to be back in West to remember the 12 first responders and three other community members who died that day.
“Some people are alive today because of those heroes,” Abbott said. “West, as a town, is better and it will live forever because of those heroes.”
He joined state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, and state Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-College Station, on stage at the ceremony. Other regional first responders and emergency personnel attended the service and paid tribute to the fallen.
“I wish that it didn’t have to be built, that the individuals we honor today were still with us, oh how I wish that could happen,” West Mayor Tommy Muska said. “To those here who knew the fellow first responders and individuals, worked with them, volunteered with them, lived with them, let this memorial be a place where you can remember and cherish their memory.”
A video compiled by Rabenwolf Entertainment owner Ben Ranzinger and played during the ceremony paid tribute to each of the victims, mirroring the memorial’s 15 stone markers arranged in a circle around a reflecting pool and fountain.
Credit: Ben Ranzinger
The memorial also features a stone wall with a narrative outlining the events of the night of the explosion.
The video was a silver lining that came with the weather forcing the service indoors, Muska said.
“When we knew we weren’t going to be able to have people at the actual dedication site, I knew I wanted to bring it, the best we could, to them here,” Muska said. “We only missed the good weather by about 12 hours, but the video was beautiful.”
After the ceremony and a downpour of rain, a few community members visited the memorial site.
Abbott said he hopes the memorial will stand as a symbol for the love, strength and dedication in the city of West. He said he empathizes with the people affected by the tragedy.
“But I am inspired so much and Texas is inspired so much by the strength and resiliency with which they have responded,” Abbott said. “But, of course, we always want to honor and revere those who stepped forward in the line of duty, risked their lives and lost their lives rescuing and saving the lives of others.”