Firefighters Recall Chaos and Confusion During Tata Trial

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HOUSTON—Chaos and confusion are words Houston firefighters used to describe the scene of the day care fire that killed four toddlers and injured three others. What’s more, they say, much of the confusion was fueled by Jessica Tata herself.

Prosecutors said Tata claimed there were nine children trapped inside the day care center instead of seven. In fact, all of the children had been pulled from the home in the first 10 minutes, and yet, firefighters continued searching for two more victims, needlessly endangering their lives, according to the prosecution.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going into an environment that’s not conducive to life,” Cpt. David Swanson told jurors.

Swanson and two other firefighters had to crawl on their hands and knees throughout the burning house. The heat at ceiling level was 475 degrees, and the black smoke was so thick, he said they had to search for the children by feeling their way around with their hands. Every second counted.

“The heat sears the lungs,” he told jurors. “The quicker we can get to them, the better their chance of survival. I hit a crib. I reached in and felt a baby. The baby wasn’t moving.”

“It’s a very difficult trial,” said defense attorney Mike Degeurin. “Very difficult for everyone involved.”