Firefighter in Texas blast died 'helping others'

Under a cloudless sky Wednesday, area firefighters, family and friends gathered to remember a 33-year-old Palos Hills native and volunteer firefighter who was among at least 15 people killed at the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion last month.

Kevin W. Sanders was in an emergency services class in West when the plant caught fire, according to Frankfort Fire Department Assistant Chief Larry Rauch, who helped organize the firefighter escort that accompanied Sanders’ remains from O’Hare International Airport on Saturday.

He rushed to help with evacuations and was caught in the explosion, Rauch said.

During the funeral at Sacred Heart Church in Palos Hills Wednesday, the Rev. Robert McGinnity choked up as he recalled baptizing Sanders as a baby.

Sanders was a church pillar through the years, McGinnity recalled, helping organize kids’ events, serving on the parish council and taking part in the Christmas pageant.

“Kevin was the angel,” McGinnity said. “The biggest angel I’ve ever seen.”

Friends this week said the way Sanders died, caught in the second plant explosion as he was assisting strangers, was not surprising.

“He died doing what he loved to do,” McGinnity said. “Helping others.”

Sanders touched lives from Palos Hills to suburban Plainfield and Fort Wayne, Ind., before he and his wife moved to Texas, friends and family said. In addition to his wife, Sarah Sanders, he is survived by their son, Reeve Sanders.

While living in Plainfield, Sanders volunteered with the town’s emergency services from 2006 to 2011, Police Chief John Konopek said.

He was the consummate professional when volunteering, Konopek said, lending a hand for special events and emergency situations.

“He was very dedicated to the organization,” Konopek said.

At Wednesday’s funeral, Scott Sanders recalled his brother’s penchant for practical jokes, and how he would sometimes put a disposable plastic cup under his armpit and then pretend to dislocate his shoulder.

Kelly Blood, 31, worked with Sanders at the Northeast Indiana Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Hospital in Fort Wayne when he was a registered veterinary technician there.
 
Sanders brought perennial Christmas cheer to hospital staff, Blood said earlier this week, making stockings for each employee and their pets, filling them with pet treats and chocolate for the pet owners and hanging them up in the hospital.

Blood and another hospital co-worker, Andrea Baker, said they are working to get a memorial plaque in Sanders’ name put up at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.

“There’s a lot of us here that had a lot of fond memories of Kevin,” Blood said. “He has a son. Maybe when he’s a little bit bigger, this would give them a happy place that won’t be tied to the tragedy.”

Donations to support Sanders’ wife and son can be made by walking into any Chase bank branch and asking to donate to the Sarah Sanders of Eddy, Texas, account, according to the funeral home.

For other donation questions, e-mail sandersfamilymemorialfund@gmail.com.

geoffz@tribune.com
Twitter: @JournoGeoffZ