HFD Approaches Day Care Fire Victims' Families, Counsels Rescuers

By Stephen Dean

Headline Goes Here

Jessica Tata

HOUSTON - A full week after the deadly day care fire, the Houston Fire Department said more than 60 paramedics and firefighters have undergone stress counseling, Local 2 Investigates reported Thursday.

Dr. Emmanuel Finney, HFD's psychologist over the Crisis Incident Stress Management program, said two teams of specially trained firefighters have been meeting with the rescuers who tried to save children with CPR while battling the Feb. 24 fire in west Houston.

He said the "defusing" sessions allow firefighters to speak with their peers about the stress of the event.

Some are suffering flashbacks to other fires involving children, he said, adding that it's "tough for them to move on to the next call" with memories of being unable to save the helpless, young victims of the fire.

Follow-up counseling is set to continue in the days ahead. Some firefighters told Local 2 Investigates they were still too rattled to discuss with a reporter what they are still going through.

The federal arrest warrant filed by U.S. marshals became available Thursday, spelling out new details on day care owner Jessica Tata's travels.

In their unlawful flight to avoid prosecution paperwork, marshals wrote that Tata fled to Nigeria after news reports had filled the Houston airwaves stating that criminal charges were expected against her.

The warrant states that a Department of Homeland Security detail focused on scanning international travel was able to confirm that Tata boarded a flight from Dallas to Nigeria. That happened on Feb. 26, "the day after arson investigator attempted to question Tata."

HFD Arson Squad investigators said they started the delicate task of approaching families of the day care children on Thursday.

Arson Chief Gabe Cortez said the parents of survivors were being approached first in an effort to piece together a detailed timeline of what happened.

After that, he said investigators would try to sit down with the parents of the four children who died, but he said that would only occur after they bury their children and have more time to grieve.

Marshals reported progress but would not elaborate as they try to locate Tata in Nigeria.

HFD declined to release any of the 911 calls from the fire, citing the ongoing criminal investigation.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Childcare Licensing unit said its investigation into the fire was also ongoing.

If you have a news tip or question for KPRC Local 2 Investigates, drop them an e-mail or call their tipline at (713) 223-TIPS (8477). Copyright 2011 by Click2Houston.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.