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Community mourns fallen Houston firefighters
HOUSTON - by KHOU 11 News and www.khou.com
The bodies of the four firefighters, who were killed in Friday’s fire at a motel and restaurant, were transported on Sunday afternoon from the medical examiner’s office to a funeral home in southeast Houston.
EMT Cpt. Matthew Renaud, 35, Engineer Operator EMT Robert Bebee, 41, Firefighter EMT Robert Garner, 29 and Probationary Firefighter Anne Sullivan, 24, died battling the blaze at the Southwest Inn when a roof collapsed.
Renaud and Bebee, both 12-year veterans with HFD, were assigned to Station 51, while Garner and Sullivan were with Station 68.
Sullivan graduated from the HFD Academy in April, but had served as an unpaid firefighter with the Community Volunteer Fire Department since 2009.
The five-alarm fire sent 13 injured firefighters to local hospitals Friday afternoon.
Three firefighters remain hospitalized on Sunday with one still in critical condition and the two others in stable condition, according to officials with the Houston Fire Department. Their injuries range from heat exhaustion to critical.
Other firefighters and civilians lined the procession route along I-45 Sunday afternoon to salute the fallen heroes as they passed by.
On Sunday morning, a prayer service was held for the four firefighters at the scene of the fire. What was once a scene of disaster has become a scene of mourning. Four axes with firefighter helmets were placed in front of the site in honor of the fallen early Saturday morning.
Alongside the Southwest Freeway, people came by all day long to pay their respects for the four firefighters. It started early Sunday morning when a group of clergymen gathered at the site of the Southwest Inn for a prayer service.
Houston’s mayor and fire chief asked for residents to offer their prayers for the fallen firefighters, their families and for all Houston firefighters. A group of devoted people came to the site in the rain to publicly fulfill that wish.
All weekend long, makeshift memorials have been established outside Houston fire stations.
HFD has dispatched their support network, counselors, firefighters and the fire chief himself to console each of the families and the surviving firefighters.
“Any time one of your brothers and sisters are affected—it’s not just that—it’s also the reality of the inherent danger of this profession. It reminds you. It reminds your family,” Cpt. Ruy Lozano, HFD spokesman, said at a press conference on Saturday.
Lozano said that he knew the firefighters that died battling Friday’s blaze.
“The firefighters that are at the station are going through the same thing, not just for them, but they also think about when they get home and their kids ask them what happened? How do you tell them? So it’s just a difficult time,” Lozano said.
HFD officials are planning a public memorial tentatively scheduled for Wednesday at Reliant Stadium. By longstanding tradition, first responders from across the state and across the nation are expected to attend the service as Houston mourns its fallen firefighters.
The fire broke out shortly after noon Friday, blowing thick, black smoke across the Southwest Freeway and slowing traffic in both directions.
The flames spread quickly through the motel in the 6800 block of the Southwest Freeway near Hillcroft. Strong winds challenged the dozens of Houston firefighters who battled the blaze. Many appeared to be struggling as temperatures crept toward 90 degrees with high humidity. They were given wet towels and water as they took breaks.
Fire Chief Terry Garrison confirmed the four were killed when the roof collapsed. Garrison said they risked going inside the burning motel because they thought there were civilians trapped inside.
“They were risking their lives to save the community,” he said. “Unfortunately, the building had much more fire than we originally thought. The structure collapsed.”
Three of the bodies were found in the rubble. In a heart wrenching scene, several firefighters gathered around a flag-draped body in the middle of the burnt-out motel.
A fourth firefighter died after being rushed to Southwest Memorial Hermann Hospital.
It took more than three hours to bring the flames under control. The front sections of the large motel and adjoining restaurant were gutted.
The scene of the fire is still off limits to everyone but investigators. HFD’s arson unit is leading the investigation with the assistance of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). It is still considered an active scene.
KHOU 11 News has learned about past violations at the restaurant. Records show that earlier this year it was cited for grease traps that had not been cleared as often as required.
However, the cause of the fire has yet to be determined, including whether it started as a grease fire.
Investigators have not said how much time they will need at the scene. They are also looking for witnesses who could shed light on how the fire started.
Anyone with information are asked to call the HFD arson unit at 713-247-8900.
Traffic near the site remains slow as three of the northbound Frontage Road lanes have been closed between Bellaire and Hillcroft.