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Rescue Workers Remember Bonfire Tragedy

By: Jennifer Cavazos
By: Jennifer Cavazos

It's been almost five years since the tragedy of November 18, 1999 struck the Aggie family and the entire Bryan-College Station community. But there was another group whose lives have been changed forever by the Bonfire collapse, the rescue workers.

Ron Vestal, a Bryan firefighter says, "I don't think any of us responding that evening figured it would be the number of people we found."

Lives were lost and a longtime tradition was gone. These are the things remembered about the bonfire collapse. Those who were a part of the rescue efforts five years ago, remember so much more.

Bart Humphreys, a College Station firefighter says it was an eerie looking scene when they arrived just after 3 a.m. He adds, "The action was hectic in those first few minutes; to outsiders it looked like chaos, but it was well orchestrated."

Emergency workers train for these kinds of situations, but nothing could prepare them for what they were about to encounter. For almost 24 hours, hundreds of local, statewide, and national agencies came together as one.

Bryan firefighters Lieutenant Jessie Terry and Ron Vestal remember that fateful day as a bonding of community and students.

Terry adds, "The students working bonfire wanted to help so bad. The rescue operators began to get them to carry off logs one by one instead of using the cranes. Aggies were standing by, ready to go."

The images these rescue workers have will forever be remembered. This memorial is not only a tribute to the victims, but for some it’s a sense of closure.

Vestal adds, "It’s the end of this whole process for a lot of us I believe. But of course, the families and A&M family are still dealing with it. I think it’s gonna be closure for everyone."

The memorial has its own meaning to those who worked long hours in the rescue efforts to find every Aggie who had fallen in the collapse.


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