Remembering the victims of the Southwest Inn fire 6 years later
HOUSTON – Friday marks the sixth anniversary of a massive fire that resulted in the deaths of five Houston firefighters.
On May 31, 2013, firefighters were called to the five-alarm blaze at the Southwest Inn along the Southwest Freeway.
Believing there were people trapped, Houston fire Capt. Bill Dowling led a rescue attempt. A roof collapsed, killing firefighters Robert Bebee, Matthew Renaud, Anne Sullivan and Robert Garner.
Dowling was seriously injured in the collapse. His legs were amputated, and he was left unable to communicate after suffering serious brain damage. He died in 2017.
Thirteen others were injured in the blaze.
An investigation revealed that the fire started in an attic about three hours before firefighters were called, and the department’s radio system became overloaded when rescue teams were trying to locate the missing firefighters.
Investigators found a total of eight factors that contributed to the fire.
In the years that followed, the Houston Fire Department took steps to improve communications and update the performance of the department’s digital radio system across the city. New technology was also added to help incident commanders track assignments at the scene.
Families of the four firefighters killed in the initial collapse filed a lawsuit against Motorola, claiming the company's radios did not work properly as firefighters tried to call for help.
A small memorial of red crosses bearing the station numbers of the fallen firefighters stands in place of the inn.
The Southwest Inn fire is considered the deadliest day in the history of the Houston Fire Department.
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