HOUSTON Four Houston firefighters died Friday while battling a 5-alarm blaze in a motel near the Southwest Freeway at Hillcroft. Three bodies were found in the rubble of the Southwest Inn motel.
A fourth firefighter died after being rushed to Southwest Memorial Hermann Hospital.
The firefighters have been identified as: Captain EMT Matthew Renaud, 35, of Station 51; Firefighter EMT Robert Garner, 29, of Station 68; Probationary Firefighter Anne Sullivan, 24, of Station 68; and Engineer Operator EMT Robert Bebee, 41, of Station 51.
Sullivan just graduated from the academy last month.
"Houston firefighters mourn the loss of our three brothers and our sister and will forever honor their sacrifices," said Jeff Caynon, president of the Houston Professional Firefighters Association. "This tragedy underscores the inherent dangers of our profession. Please keep Houston firefighters in your thoughts and prayers."
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."
In a heartwrenching scene, several firefighters gathered around a flag-draped body in the middle of the burnt-out motel.
The victims were later loaded into ambulances for a procession to the medical examiner's office. Firefighters at stations along the way lined the street and saluted as they passed by. Some citizens also came out to pay their respects.
"Today is going to go down as the worst day in the history of the Houston Fire Department," Mayor Parker said. "We ask for every Houstonian to offer their prayers for the families of these fallen firefighters."
Six firefighters were injured in the blaze. One of them is in very critical condition in the burn ICU unit.
The injured are being treated at: Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center; Memorial Hermann Southwest, just blocks from the fire; and Memorial Hermann Northwest.
HFD Asst. Chief Rick Flanagan said this was the worst day of his life.
"There is nothing we can do that will heal the hurt that we all feel today," Mayor Parker said.
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.
It took more than three hours to bring the flames under control.
The front sections of the large motel and adjoining restaurant were gutted.
"Pray for our members… those who go to work tomorrow and the next day and the next day," Garrison said. "And we’ll get through this. We’ll honor the families. We’ll continue to serve you the best we possibly can."
While HFD is in mourning, there will be others who are working through the night to make sure we’re safe," Mayor Parker said. "So I ask everyone to think about them and the job that they do."
Traffic was backed up for miles in the inbound lanes. The feeder road was closed near Bellaire and three mainlanes were shut down to make room for emergency vehicles. Rubberneckers also slowed traffic in the outbound lanes.