WEST, Texas -- The Town of West took a step forward Friday night, as it celebrated its first class of emergency medical technicians to graduate since the deadly West Fertilizer Co. explosion.
One by one, the new EMTs received their certificates inside the Knights of Columbus Hall, but for the 18 graduates, the diploma in their hands is more than a piece of a paper.
"It's very special," said West EMS volunteer Margaret Lenart. "It's very special."
The certificate is a reminder of how far the class has come.
"It's an accomplishment," Lenart said. "It's surviving, and I have found out I am survivor in more ways than one."
Every student stayed the course after so much pain and loss. Lenart, a retired nurse, said the class shares a bond like no other.
"We are more like family than we are friends," she said. "I don't think any class had to ever work through a mass casualty, Hazmat situation like we did that night."
On the night of April 17, they left their classroom and raced to the scene to rescue victims. They stepped in to do the job before they got the patch.
"People need help... I'm still a nurse," Lenart said. "I believe in helping others."
Four of the students - volunteer firefighters who were taking the course - didn't survive. They include Cyrus Reed, Kevin Sanders, Jerry Chapman, and Perry Calvin.
Lanert told News 8 the ceremony was bittersweet.
"I miss them," she said. "I miss them. Wish they were here."
The fallen received honorary certificates. Their pictures, families, and spirit were all part of this graduation.
"These are to remember that you have four angels with you at all times," said West EMS Director Tom Marek.
The new EMTs are standing together again, remembering those they lost and ready to answer the next call.
"I'm proud of myself," Lenart said. "I'm proud of my classmates."
West is proud of them, too.