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Texas firefighter's kiss to son before deadly blast was last goodbye

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Sat, 20 Apr 2013 00:02 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Corrie MacLaggan

WEST, Texas, April 19 (Reuters) - When the call came on Wednesday evening about a blaze at the local fertilizer plant, volunteer firefighter Morris Bridges picked up his 2-year-old son, Jaimeson, said "Daddy loves you," and kissed him goodbye.

Bridges, 41, a father of three, has not been seen since. His family have not definitively been told that he is dead but they believe he has died.

He is among five local volunteer firefighters presumed dead in the explosion ignited by the fire at the plant in West, Texas. The dedication he showed to his community that night was typical of him, the family said.

"As soon as a call would go out, Morris would be the first one there," said his wife, Carmen Bridges, who met Morris in middle school and married him about four years ago after reconnecting as they planned their 20th high school reunion.

Carmen Bridges, wearing a pink T-shirt and her reddish hair piled on top of her head, was holding and cuddling Jaimeson as she softly spoke about her husband.

On Friday, the firefighter's family remembered him as a devoted father and uncle who proudly stood on street corners holding a boot to collect donations for the town's volunteer fire department of about 30 members.

"I can't tell you how much of a good person he was," said his sister-in-law, Kelley Smith. She said Bridges took her and her children in after her divorce. "All of our hearts are really just broken now," Smith said.

Authorities said on Friday that 14 people were killed in the explosion and some 200 were injured.

Morris and Carmen Bridges settled in West because they wanted to have children together and raise them in the loving, close environment of a small town, she said. When they got married, Morris Bridges already had two children. Brittany is 17. Brent, 18, is planning to become a firefighter.

By day, Morris was a foreman for a company that installs and maintains fire sprinklers and alarms. For the past two years or so, he was also a volunteer firefighter, something he had always dreamed of doing. He always wore the radio used to alert the volunteers of a fire alarm and his fire badge, his wife said, her voice breaking as she wondered aloud whether she might be able to somehow find that badge.

On Wednesday night, not long after Morris Bridges left home, Carmen Bridges was on her porch step and Brent and Jaimeson were playing outside when the fiery explosion ripped through the plant that was just a block from her house.

"I was screaming; I couldn't see Jaimeson," she said. "It blew our house apart."

Brent collected Jaimeson and took him across the street, and the family eventually took shelter with nearby family members. They left in such a hurry that Jaimeson had no shoes, and on Friday, she went to a local community center to sort through donated items and find him some.

As for her husband, "I know Morris was there when it blew up," she said.

Carmen Bridges still has not been allowed back to the house and she does not know what she will find there. She is hoping to at least recover baby pictures of a little boy who will have to grow up without knowing his father.

"He asks for his daddy," she said outside the community center on Friday, holding blond-haired Jaimeson as he drank from a bottle. "I don't know what to do about that yet." (Reporting By Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Greg McCune and Mohammad Zargham)

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