Never in the 118-year history of the Houston Fire Department (HFD) has a fire been so deadly that it cost HFD the lives of so many brave public servants at one time.
Such a tragedy occurred this past Friday afternoon, when roughly 150 firefighters responded to a massive, out-of-control five-alarm motel fire that took place in Southwest Houston.
The Houston Fire Department said this was the single deadliest day in department history.
The fire began shortly after noon at Bhojan, an Indian restaurant, according to a statement released by the Houston Fire Department, and soon engulfed the adjacent Southwest Inn, a motel located off of Hwy. 59, otherwise known as the Southwest Freeway.
Houston Fire Chief Terry Garrison stated that the four firefighters who died in the blaze took a high risk to aggressively fight the fire by going into the burning building to look for people they thought were trapped inside. After a major portion of the building collapsed, the four firefighters became trapped.
Houston Fire Department Capt. Matthew Renaud, 35, an 11-year veteran of the department, Engineer Operator Robert Bebee, 41, who joined the department almost 12 years ago, Firefighter Robert Garner, 29, who joined the department 12 1/2 years ago, and 24-year-old Anne Sullivan were four, out of the many brave firefighters who died while responding to the deadly blaze.
Sullivan was the rookie of the group, having graduated from the Houston Fire Department Academy about a month ago.
The remaining firefighters were able to get the fire under control within about two hours.
In a statement, the Houston Fire Department said it had never had four firefighters killed while on the same call. In 1929, three firefighters were killed when their engine was broadsided by a train.
The Houston Fire Department said 14 firefighters were taken to the hospital on Friday, with one who remained in critical condition and another who underwent surgery. The rest were in stable condition and several have since been released from the hospital.
The Houston Fire Department Arson Division is taking the lead in the investigation of the fire, with assistance from the State Fire Marshal’s Office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Houston Police Department.
Gaylon Davenport, president of the Houston Black Firefighters Association, has been a firefighter for over 30 years with HFD and states that it is difficult to put into words how the loss of a fellow firefighter impacts another firefighter.
“My sincere thoughts and prayers are with the families of these community heroes and their sacrifice will forever be on my mind as I continue to serve as a firefighter,” said Davenport. “I don’t think many people understand the tremendous risk involved with dealing with fire and hazardous materials.”
Davenport states that every firefighter takes this job, knowing what they are signing up for and understanding the risks involved.
“While people are running out of buildings, we are running into them,” said Davenport. “We put our lives on the line every day and while we can’t help but think about the risk, we respond without really thinking about it because it is our duty.”
The Houston Fire Department was established in 1838 and is currently the third largest fire department in the United States. HFD is responsible for preserving life and property to a population of more than 2 million in an area totalling 654 square miles and has a mission to “save lives, protect property, and serve our community with courage, commitment and compassion.”
After witnessing the heroics of these four fallen heroes and the other firefighters who serve, it is evident that Houston firefighters truly live up to their mission.
The Houston Fire Department has seen an enormous outpouring of sympathy and support from not only the citizens of Houston, but also from around the United States.
The Houston Fire Department is working closely with the 100 Club and has asked that those who would like to make monetary donations to make their contributions to the 100 Club.
The 100 Club, a 60-year old Houston based non-profit organization, supports the dependents of firefighters and Law Enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. Donations are being accepted to “The 100 Club Survivors Fund”, which provides benefits to those dependents.
Contributions are being accepted at:
100 Club Survivors Fund
5555 San Felipe – Suite 1750
Houston, TX 77056
Contributions can also be made at The 100 Club website: www.the100club.org.
The 100 Club states that 100% of “The 100 Club Survivors Fund” donations go to the families of these firefighters and other Law Enforcement officers that have been killed in the line of duty.
A public memorial service was held for the four Houston firefighters, who made the ultimate sacrifice, on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 10 a.m. at Reliant Stadium, One Reliant Park, Houston, Texas.