Memorial plans underway for fallen HFD firefighters
HOUSTON (KTRK) -- This week the city of Houston will stop to do something it has never done -- say goodbye to four firefighters killed in the line of duty. It is the saddest of duties, making funeral plans for the four fallen firefighters.
They will all be memorialized in a service Wednesday morning at 10am at Reliant Stadium.
As investigators look for more clues as to what went wrong, plans are being made for a public memorial on Wednesday. It will be a gathering like none before, in honor of those who died on the Houston Fire Department's deadliest day.
The four firefighters who died at the Southwest Inn on Friday will forever be remembered for their courage and their sacrifice. Those visiting memorials which have grown outside the stations where they worked say it's unfortunate that it took this tragedy for everyone to realize what heroes firefighters truly are.
Visitor Joey Schooler said, "These guys are doing this by their choice, willingly sacrificing their lives and losing their lives to save us to help us."
Captain Matthew Renaud, Engineer Operator EMT Robert Bebee, Firefighter EMT Robert Garner and Probationary Firefighter Anne Sullivan all died when the roof collapsed on them Friday. They were inside the Southwest Inn looking for civilians who might be trapped. The hotel had become an inferno.
At the Houston Professional Firefighters Union on Monday, wives were assembling by hand ribbons that will be handed out during the memorial. They're planning to make 30,000 of them.
"It's just to show our support for the families," said HFD wife Shantelle Wischnewsky. "It's tough for all of us. It's tough."
As many as 40,000 people are expected for the memorial. A service for a single fallen firefighter is a logistical challenge, but holding one for four who died is an undertaking the magnitude of which neither the Houston Fire Department nor its firefighter's union have ever seen before.
"You're looking at hundreds of people just to pull off an event that's going to have thousands of people attend," said Jeff Caynon with HPFFA.
Plans are now in the works for hundreds of firefighters from Dallas, Austin and other areas to come and work Wednesday so that all Houston firefighters who want to can attend the memorial service.
Three firefighters remain in the hospital Monday. HFD says one of those is still listed in critical condition. One is expected to go home as early as today.
The fire department has not yet released info on parking or the procession that will accompany the memorial.
CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION
The area around the motel is secured. HPD officers are stationed around the perimeter while investigators go through the debris. A spokesperson with the Houston Fire Department says while they have no reason to believe this fire was intentionally set, they are treating the area as a crime scene.
For hours, likely days, investigators will sift through debris of the Southwest Inn. They will be taking pictures and documenting their findings. Houston's Arson Bureau will lead this investigation. Assisting are the state Fire Marshal's Office, ATF, Texas Rangers and HPD Homicide.
They're treating this as a crime scene in order to keep people out, and tightly track what they may discover. Still, they're asking anyone with pictures or video of Friday's five-alarm blaze to pass them along through a tip line. They want to build a timeline of events to help investigators get to the root of the fire that's etched a terrible memory in Houston's history.
"Part of the process is not only to determine cause but also in hopes to get a timeline and a recreation of what transpired, to learn so we can hope that it never happens again," said Captain Ruy Lozano with the Houston Fire Department.
The area around the motel is still roped off and two main lanes of the feeder along 59 inbound are still closed as they have been all weekend.
During a procession held Sunday through the city, people lined the streets to honor the lives of those fallen firefighters, their caskets draped in American flags.
"I just wanted to take a moment to thank every one of our firefighters and our police officers that are out there every day and are taking care of us," said resident Grace Slazo. "We salute all of you."
INVESTIGATORS ASKING FOR HELP
The cause of the fire at the Southwest Inn is still under investigation. The Houston Fire Department Arson Division is taking the lead, with assistance from the State Fire Marshal's Office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Houston Police Department.
An HFD spokesperson tells us that Arson investigators are now seeking witnesses to the tragic blaze. Anyone who has information that may help investigators is urged to call 713-247-8900.
UPDATE ON THE INJURED
Three of the 13 firefighters injured remain hospitalized. One firefighter was listed in extremely critical condition. The other two are in stable and good condition. One is expected to be released today.
One of the injured firefighters had his leg amputated as a result of his injuries. He's been identified as Captain William Dowling.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
The 100 Club is supporting the victims and families. Anyone interested in donating can do so online at the100club.org.
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