In Focus

Look back at other deadly fires

Sunday, June 02, 2013

The death toll from Friday's hotel fire in southwest Houston is the highest the department has ever seen from one single incident.

We've lost 64 firefighters since the late 1890s in Houston, but four in one in day is unheard of. We'll find out why in good time. Right now, it's just an unimaginable loss joining a list that's already too long.

It is never easy. Firefighters don't sign up for an easy job. They know they're risking their lives to save ours. But days like Friday are just especially tough, and no matter how rare, it seems they've come too often.

An Easter Sunday four years ago, Captain James Harlow and firefighter Damion Hobbs died when they got trapped in a fully engulfed home.

In February 2005, Captain Grady Burke died fighting a fire in a vacant home on the city's south side. The ceiling fell in on him. He was trapped by burning debris.

A year earlier, Kevin Kulow was trapped inside a burning nightclub and couldn't get out.

In October 2001, Captain Jay Jahnke died trapped in a high rise after he got separated from his crew.

And a year earlier, Lewis Mayo and Kim Smith died when the roof of a McDonald's collapsed on them as they entered the building.

Seven heroes taken too soon, and after every flag draped funeral, investigators recommend change.

More often than not, when Houston firefighters die, they were part of what's called a first-in fast attack. Investigations have suggested slow-downs, more on-scene tracking of firefighters inside burning buildings and improved May Day training.

None of it will make firefighting safe. It's not. It's their job to risk it all, as one chief said at Houston's last funeral, to rescue someone they'd never met and save something they never owned.

All of the firefighter deaths since 2000 came from fast-attack crews. Three of the seven deaths we talked about came in collapses.

Radio problems have been cited in other fires. National investigators will look at it all. The results won't be complete for months.

Find Ted on Facebook at ABC13TedOberg or on Twitter at @tedoberg

Editor's Note: Senior Captain Thomas "Bill" Dillion died in the line of duty on March 14, 2012. We were aware of Capt. Dillion's death. His loss is tragic. We meant no disrespect during our coverage on Friday.

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