4 Houston firefighters die as roof collapses at motel
By The Associated Press
Published: Friday, May 31, 2013, 9:30 p.m.
HOUSTON — Four firefighters searching for people they thought might be trapped in a blazing Houston motel and restaurant on Friday were killed when that part of the structure collapsed and ensnared them, authorities said.
At least five other firefighters were hospitalized in the blaze that became the deadliest in the 118-year history of the Houston Fire Department.
Flames were shooting from the roof of the Southwest Inn, along one of Houston's most heavily traveled freeways, U.S. Highway 59, and black smoke was blanketing the area as firefighters tried to extinguish the fire.
Three firefighters were killed at the scene, while the fourth died in a hospital, according to the mayor's office and a medical examiner.
Five people were injured and were hospitalized for treatment of chest pains or leg injuries.
“We took the highest amount of risk possible because we thought we had civilians in the structure,” fire Chief Terry Garrison said. “The structure collapsed, and our members who were trying to save lives were lost.”
Garrison said everyone else has since been accounted for. A cause of the blaze hasn't been determined.
The loss of life is the single worst in the history of the department, which had counted 64 firefighters lost since the city began paying firefighters in 1895. Twice previously, two firefighters were killed in a single fire, in 1953 and in 2000.
“Unfortunately, the building had much more fire in it than we originally thought,” Garrison said. “We do know there was a collapse, and it caused our firefighters to get trapped.”
When a flag-draped body was removed from the smoldering remains about 4 p.m., four hours after the blaze broke out, firefighters — working in swirling winds, steamy humidity and temperatures exceeding 90 degrees — paused and saluted. A procession of ambulances, under police motorcycle escort, left the scene about 90 minutes later and made a ceremonial drive past the fallen firefighters' station, by then draped in black.
“We will provide appropriate services to our fallen firefighters and full honors, but there is nothing we can do that will heal the hurt that we all feel today,” Mayor Annise Parker said. “I ask for every Houstonian to offer their prayers to the families of these fallen firefighters, and also to think about what the job of firefighter is and the dangers they face every day.”
Names of the victims were not immediately released. Parker said they would be withheld until family members were notified.
“We will work through it, we will get better, and we will learn from this,” Garrison said.
Jeff Caynon, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, said the victims included three men and one woman.
“Houston firefighters mourn the loss of our three brothers and our sister and will forever honor their sacrifices,” Caynon said. “This tragedy underscores the inherent dangers of our profession.”
Officials said the five injured firefighters likely would remain hospitalized for at least the night.
The blaze broke out just after noon in a restaurant and bar at the motel, then quickly spread to the section of the building housing the motel. About 150 firefighters responded and were able to get it under control within about two hours.
Sammy Sewell, who had been staying at the hotel, said he walked out of his room and heard yelling. He said he turned a corner, saw three women screaming and running at him down a hallway. Then he heard three blasts.
“Next thing you know, it was ‘boom!' It scared the crap out of me. I mean, it sounded like a cannon going off. That's how loud it was,” Sewell said. “I could have sworn it picked this building up and put it back down.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- ‘Patriots’ back Nevada rancher; Reid labels them ‘domestic terrorists’
- Del Taco customers mistakenly charged thousands for fast-food meals
- IRS, other agencies award contracts to license plate tracking company
- Health care law enrollee passwords at risk for Heartbleed Internet security flaw, feds warn
- Fox fires exec who used email to plan aid
- Drug crime reclassification to help ex-cons get vote rights
- Mauling puts bears back on firing line in Central Florida
- Washington’s snowy owl recovers from apparent bus crash, returns to wild
- Automaker GM’s wait on Saturn Ion safety recall took years
- First date in New Jersey ends with him pilfering her TV and Yorkshire terrier
- Ohio couple married for 70 years dies just 15 hours apart