Report shows 2 firefighters legally drunk responding to West explosion

It's against the rules even for volunteer firefighters

HOUSTON - The sights and sounds of the explosion that took the lives of the brave firefighters at the West, Texas, fertilizer plant are embedded in our memories. Now autopsy results from the men who died in the explosion are causing heartbreak and questions.

A new report shows two of the firefighters were legally drunk at the time of the explosion and one had marijuana in his system, something that is against the rules even for volunteers.

Although there may be no question that all the men are heroes, there are new questions about the response to that massive emergency.

When fire broke out at the West Fertilizer plant around 8:30 on the night of April 17, the town's volunteer firefighters dropped whatever there were doing and rushed to fight it. Twenty minutes later, the plant exploded. Twelve first responders were killed heroically fighting to protect their families and neighbors.

But recently released autopsy results indicate three firefighters should not have responded to the fire.

Brothers Douglas and Robert Snokhous had blood alcohol levels well above the legal limit for driving of .08 percent. So did Firefighter William Uptmor, Jr.  Abbot Fireman Gary Chapman had traces of marijuana in his system.

Mayor Tommy Muska, who was also a first responder that night, says it doesn't matter.

"I truly think they are all still heroes. This doesn't diminish my opinion of them in the least," Mayor Muska said.

The West Volunteer Fire Department follows the same standard as other departments in the state. There is zero tolerance for responding under the influence of alcohol.

"No, they should not have gone to the fire, but I don't know how you are going to pull them off because they are the first ones to go there," said Muska.

The autopsy results, first reported by the Waco Tribune-Herald Thursday, elicited a wave of criticism in West and elsewhere. On Friday the paper printed a special note to readers that includes an apology, and this, "Our only intent is to report this story responsibly and that the sacrifices of those killed on April 17 can prevent a similar tragedy somewhere else."

In Houston people told us they agree with West's mayor -- the men who died are still heroes.

"Should they have been there? Probably not. But were they wrong to be there? No, because they were protecting the community. It was a major catastrophe," said George Cook.

"Anybody that was there they would have ran to it. It was like 911. Anybody that was there, they went out there, they did what they had to do," Franklin Martinez said.

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