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Vickroy: Former Palos Hills man was courageous first responder

Workers stattentiWednesday during 'Taps' site fire explosiWest Texas. A former Palos Hills man KevSanders was among first responders killed.

Workers stand at attention Wednesday during "Taps" at the site of the fire and explosion in West, Texas. A former Palos Hills man, Kevin Sanders, was among the first responders killed. | AP photo

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Updated: May 28, 2013 7:49PM



“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”

Christopher Reeve

Before he became a first responder, Kevin Sanders was an altar boy, a baby sitter and an animal lover.

“He was a joy to have in class. He never seemed to have a bad day,” said Bonnie Littleton, one of his teachers at Marist High School. “I also remember him as a caring young man who loved to laugh. He wasn’t shy. He was outgoing and personable.”

Littleton described Sanders as “one of those students you loved, never worried about and hoped would go on to make a difference in the world.”

By all accounts, she added, “He has done just that.”

Sanders, 33, was among those killed in the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion last week. The blast claimed 15 lives and left 200 more injured. It also left a crater measuring 93 feet wide and 10 feet deep.

According to news reports, Sanders, a volunteer emergency medical technician, was in an EMT class at the ambulance station when they were asked to help evacuate a nearby nursing home and apartment building. Then came a second explosion, so powerful it measured 2.1 on the Richter scale and wiped out the West firehouse, two ambulances and all of its supplies.

The former Palos Hills and Plainfield resident leaves behind a wife, Sarah, and a 3-month-old son, as well as many friends and family members who will miss his caring demeanor and his ability to make everyone feel special.

“He was just one of those people who made you feel like you were a good friend,” said Pat Borys, a former neighbor who hired Sanders to baby-sit her three kids when he was just a teen. “He was so responsible. His parents really instilled good values in him.”

Borys also remembers Sanders being an active volunteer in the community.

“It seemed he was always helping with something,” she said.

Perhaps because he was.

Robert McGinnity, pastor emeritus for Sacred Heart Church in Palos Hills, said in addition to being an altar server and the youngest member of the parish council, Sanders helped tend to preschool religious education classes and joined other teens for the annual Song of the Stable Christmas presentation at the church.

“He was a part of that for a number of years,” McGinnity said. “I remember one year, he was the biggest angel I’d ever seen.”

Sanders also loved animals and often talked of becoming a veterinarian, said Frank Manna, retired band director for Marist. Sanders was a top French horn player and alternate drum major for the band.

“He stood out in a crowd, in a good way,” Manna said. “He had lots of energy and a very outgoing personality. It does not surprise me at all that he became a first responder. He was the kind of person who would rush to help someone.”

Not unlike Superman. And Sanders was such a Superman fanatic, he named his son Reeve.

After earning an associate’s degree in science from Moraine Valley Community College, Sanders went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in animal science from the University of Illinois, and then an associate of applied science in veterinary technology from Parkland College.

Jim West, assistant fire chief for the Bruceville-Eddy Volunteer Fire Department in Texas, said that Sanders had been with the department about a year.

West said he wasn’t certain what brought Sanders to be part of the fire service, but said, “He was always wanting to help people.”

In addition to his EMT job with Bruceville-Eddy, Sanders worked as a vet tech at Hewitt Veterinary Hospital and the Waco Animal Emergency Clinic. He also taught part time at McLennan Community College in Waco.

On Monday, when Marist faculty and staff learned the list of casualties included one of their own, they pulled out a yearbook with Sanders’ photo and lit a candle.

“He’s in our prayers,” Brother Pat McNamara said.

Erik Christensen, a guidance counselor, graduated from Marist with Sanders in 1997.

“I remember Kevin. He was an honor student dedicated to the band. He was nicknamed ‘the Colonel.’ He had a great sense of humor,” Christensen said. “He was the type of human being that would run toward danger while the rest of us ran away.

“He was a real Marist man,” he said. “We lost a good one.”

A memorial service is planned for Thursday in Waco for first responders who died in the blast. President Barack Obama plans to attend.

Sanders’ body is to be returned to the Chicago area with honors, according to a news release from the Chicago Fire Department. Plans to honor him are being coordinated with the Plainfield Fire Protection District, Plainfield Police Department, Texas Line of Duty Death Task Force and Illinois Fire Chiefs Funeral Committee. He will receive appropriate honors awarded to a fallen firefighter, the release said.

Cash donations can be made to the American Red Cross, redcross.org, or the Salvation Army, donate.salvationarmyusa.org/texas/WestExplosion.

For those who wish to donate directly to the community of West, an account has been set up at Point West Bank, www.pointwestbank.com.

Arrangements are pending.



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