(KYTX) - Ryan Cobb is a firefighter for the Winona fire station. A small, East Texas volunteer fire department in a town of less than 1,000 people.
It's a job he knew he always wanted to do. A career that has required many hours of training.
"It's a numerous amount of training from anything that can happen, to anything that will happen. A lot of it is things we don't expect," said Cobb.
Ryan, and fellow firefighter Lance Harrod, get paid to fight fires. However, their station relies mostly on volunteers.
A fire department not much different from West.
"You just think, that could have been us," said Lance Harrod.
Volunteers go through the same training that paid firefighters receive, but with fewer required training hours.
However, many volunteers end up choosing to take the same number of training hours required of paid departments.
"There's always room to learn, nobody knows everything. You're always learning something new and everyday is a new day," added Harrod.
We visited a classroom at the Kilgore Fire Academy filled with future firefighters. Today, their lesson is on safety.
"Training is the backbone of any good fire department," said Mike Fennell, lead instructor.
These firefighters will go through 474 hours of training required for paid firefighters. Forty of those hours will be geared toward dealing with hazardous materials.
They will learn how to look up chemicals and identify them.
"Basically, any type of chemical before they even arrive, they're looking it up in there books and kind of getting a feel of what's going to be in front of them," said Fennell.
But even with all that training, firefighters in small towns face challenges that aren't in their control.
"A lot of times it's manpower, water supply, resources," explained Fennell.
As investigators try to figure out what caused the fire and explosion in West, these firefighters mourn the loss of a few of their own.
"Those are our brothers and sisters down there. Our hearts go out to them and their families everyday," said Cobb.