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— First responders are trained to respond to a variety of possible horrendous events that we pray never happen.

One of those possibilities recently became a reality in Ouachita County when a truck hauling ammonium nitrate caught fire and exploded.

The responses by our area first responders are to be commended.

As reported last week in the Camden News, the explosion along Ouachita 57/US. 278 was felt in Bearden, Stephens; Conway, New Edinburg, Fordyce, Princeton, Hermitage, West Little Rock, Fayetteville and Strong, as well as Lillie and Shongaloo, Louisiana.

Tragically, the truck driver Randall McDougal, 63, of El Dorado, lost his life in the blast. The results of the explosion could have been much, much worse if it had occurred closer to a populated area. As it is, there has been substantial property damage.

Our reason for recalling the frightening occasion to is to thank and salute those who put themselves in harm’s way when they responded to the report of the truck burning. In the Camden News article, Andrea Tippit, coordinator for the Ouachita County Office of Emergency Management, described the event and actions of those first on the scene after McDougal called 911 to report the truck was on fire..

Tippit said first responders, after seeing that the substance being hauled was ammonium nitrate, began to evacuate residents in the location. Tippit was on her way to the site U.S. 278 when she heard the blast.

“I immediately thought ‘there it goes,’” she said. “It’s the worst (incident) I’ve ever seen, and I hope I never see anything like it again.”

While viewing the damage to homes, tree and vehicles, Tippit saw that firefighters in proximity to the explosion “were very, very lucky.” She said, “Just from the percussion of the blast, they could have been hurt really, really bad.”

“The blast threw them to the ground,” Tippit said, noting they were dazed “for a couple of good minutes, then got on their feet and kept doing their job. They just amaze me. They’re resilient and just amaze me. They carry on whether they understand what just happened or not. The adrenaline, and their training - and reaction - just take over and they just do it - not thinking, you just ‘do.’”

We think Tippit’s words describe well the amazing work those first responders did, and the dedication and bravery they displayed.

We recognize that service and thank them.

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