Perry Calvin, 37, a married father of two with a third on the way, was one of the missing volunteer firefighters. He had been
attending an emergency medical technician class in West on Wednesday evening when a firefighter in the class got a page about the fire at the fertilizer company, said his father, Phil Calvin.
Perry Calvin and another man drove to the scene together and got there before the explosion. The other man was found dead Wednesday night.
“It doesn’t look good, but we don’t have anything confirmed yet,” Phil Calvin, the fire chief in the town of Navarro Mills, said Thursday afternoon. About an hour after he spoke those words, he got the news, sitting by the phone at his home in nearby Frost: his son was indeed among the dead.
Perry Calvin was not even a firefighter with the West department. He volunteered with another department in a nearby town, but had rushed to the scene to help, because he happened to be close. He is the kind of person who would be right at the head of the line, his father said. “He would do what he could to put the fire out or help find people.”
This gets to me more than I can say, probably because my dad was the first fire chief of the Starhill VFD, and my brother in law Mike discovered his vocation as a firefighter by signing on with the Starhill volunteers when he was only 18, a story I tell in The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming. A few months ago, when I was out in Starhill visiting my folks, two kids accidentally started a grass fire on a windy day. It was impossible to get the trucks back into the field, so the volunteers had to scoop buckets of water out of a pond and speed them to the fire on the backs of their four-wheelers in order to put the thing out. These are guys who don’t get paid to fight fire. They do it because they love their community, and feel a responsibility for it.
In the light of Ruthie’s death, I saw my small town with fresh eyes. I saw the deep goodness of small-town people, who weren’t anonymous to each other and who felt a duty of love to each other. I wanted to be part of that. I needed to be part of that.
I moved my family back home. Now, when I hear the people of West on TV talking about how they’re going to carry each other through this catastrophe, I know exactly what they mean. The people of West will not only endure; they will triumph. There is nothing small about the lives of small towns.