APEX, N.C. — A giant fireball and a dark, ominous cloud left little doubt where the danger was Thursday night in Apex. Yet, the lights and sirens of first respondents headed right for it.
"We live in the city, we heard the explosions," said Cpl. Shawn Conley with the Apex Police Department.
Conley was at home with his wife and 4-month-old son when the EQ chemical warehouse went up in flames. There was no question what he had to do.
Conley sent his wife and son packing, put on his uniform, and drove toward the chemical cloud, not knowing what he was getting into.
"I'm going into it, and (my wife's) going away," Conley said. "She said, 'Make sure you call me!'"
His job was to make sure everyone else got out safely. It didn't take long before he felt the contents of the cloud, with an itchy throat and burning eyes.
"You could smell it," Conley said. "Every once in a while, it'd get stronger when the wind would gust up."
After four hours, he and several other first responders showing symptoms finally went to the decontamination tent. They were scrubbed down and taken to the hospital for observation.
After Conley was released from the hospital, he couldn't even go home to rest, because it was in the evacuation zone. He went to his mother in-law's to catch some sleep and then was back at work by Saturday.
Business owners waiting to assess their property Sunday were grateful to all the first responders.
"They did their job, they did it right," said Herbert Recore, whose business was evacuated during the fire.
Conley said he spent most of his time less than a half-mile from the fire. He said some of the first responders who got even closer complained of headaches and bloody noses. Everyone was treated and released.
"I'm sure everybody's happy to do what they did," Conley said. "It's just something you accept when you take this line of work that you're going into harm's way when everybody else is leaving."