The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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February 3, 2013

Ghent explosion anniversary: EMT’s death still fresh to his father

— Even now, Craig Dorsey says he can still hear the voice of his late son.

Hours after he lost his Craig II, along with three other men in a horrific propane gas explosion at a convenience store, Dorsey says the son spoke to him.

“Daddy,” came the familiar southern drawl of “Toad,” as he was known affectionately by his father. “It’s OK, Daddy. It’s OK.”

Wednesday marked the sixth anniversary of the explosion that roared through a large convenience store in Ghent. Five other people at the Little General Store suffered nonfatal injuries.

Debris was thrown in a large radius, and windows were blown out at a nearby grade school.

As the anniversary approached, Dorsey headed to Myrtle Beach, not for a winter respite, but simply to take up a knowing brother’s invitation to stay in a new condo and get away from the old haunts, as memories of that fateful day came flooding back.

“It don’t get no easier as the years go by,” says Dorsey, a pastor who served, alongside his son, as an EMT with the Ghent Volunteer Fire Department.

“I’m missing him and angry that it happened when it shouldn’t have happened.”

Craig Dorsey II was 24 when the blast occurred Jan. 30, 2007, ending a fascination with firefighting that went back to his days as a youngster, a desire to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“Little Craig went with me when he was 10 to the fire department,” the father says.

“We ran fire calls together. We’d get called to wrecks. I would be thinking he was in school. But I’d look up and there he was on the car wrecks. In his senior year, I told the fire department not to let him come down to make sure he had graduated.”

One of his happier days came when his son gained his EMT license.

“The red lights and sirens — that’s what he lived for,” the father said.

When the father left the Army as a parachute rigger for the 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., he became a police officer a short while. His son served with him in Mullens. The father-son team stayed together at the fire department.

Dorsey can recall only snatches of his son’s funeral since that day was a blur, given his emotional turmoil.

But the day of his death remains clear.

At the time, the family lived in Mabscott, and his son’s girlfriend called to let him know Craig Jr. was on the call to the store about a propane gas leak.

No sooner had he pulled on his boots and barreled down the West Virginia Turnpike en route to Ghent than the realization of loss hit home. His son was gone.

“I knew in my heart he was dead,” he said. His apprehension was confirmed when he pulled into the Little General lot.

“I got on the scene and the ambulance people all knew me. I told them to roll him over. I didn’t want him to get cold. That’s what I was thinking.”

Grief endures when a loved one passes on.

“You go on,” Dorsey said.

“I have other children and grandchildren. He was my firstborn. He was named after me. I remember when he was a baby. He would lay on my chest. We’d watch television. I’d pat him on the butt and he’d go to sleep. He died doing what he really loved. He lived and died as a fire department EMS.”

Three minutes before the son arrived at the convenience store, he called his father.

“I miss my son,” the father said.

“I miss him calling me every day. He used to call me two to three times a day, just to say, ‘Hey, Daddy.’ The last words I ever heard him say, and we always made a point of this were, ‘Hey, I love you.’ I still have his cell phone number in my phone. I never took it out.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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