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Four Brave Houston Firefighters Lose their Lives—Cause Remains Under Investigation

The Allied Universal Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services is thankful to count several buildings in the Houston area among our subscribers. Our hearts go out to the victims and families from the Houston Fire Department.

On Tuesday, June 4, 2013, a horrific fire broke out at an inn and vegetarian restaurant in Houston, Texas, killing four firefighters and injuring 14 more, making it the single deadliest day in the history of the Houston Fire Department and the third largest in the nation. The incident is just one of several across the country which have recently claimed far too many human lives – from the Boston Marathon bombing to the fertilizer plant explosion in Central Texas to the devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma.

According to Houston authorities, only once before has the city lost multiple firefighters in a single day…in 1929 in a freak accident, when a fire engine was hit by a train, resulting in the death of three firefighters. This month’s fire is believed to have sparked at a restaurant adjacent to the Southwest Inn just after noon, eventually morphing into a monstrous inferno.

According to Houston Fire Chief Terry Garrison, first-responders arrived at the scene at 12:11 p.m. to rescue the 45 motel guests. “At some point during the blaze’s ferocious tear through the motel, one of the building’s structural components collapsed and the firefighters who were risking their lives to save our community became trapped beneath the wreckage.”

Although the cause of the lethal blaze has yet to be determined, authorities believe the cause of the death for the four late first-responders was structural collapse. According to a press release, the victims were Capt. EMT Matthew Renaud, 35, of Station 51; Engineer-Operator EMT Robert Bebee, 41, of Station 51; Firefighter EMT Robert Garner, 29, of Station 68; and Probationary Firefighter Anne Sullivan, 24, of Station 68, who graduated from the Houston Fire Department Academy in April, 2013.

The Bhojan Restaurant, an Indian café neighboring the motel, reportedly received numerous citations by city inspectors, over the years…most recently in March, for allegedly failing to clean grease traps on restaurant grounds. However, authorities have not determined if Friday’s deadly inferno was initially triggered by a grease fire. The HFD Arson Bureau, Houston police homicide division, Texas Rangers, the ATF and the state Fire Marshal’s Office are collaborating in the investigation.

“We had an early and quick catastrophic failure of the roof,” Chief Garrison said. “There’s no way that I would have anticipated that we would lose four firefighters. I want to tell the residents of Houston their firefighters acted absolutely courageously today, that there were probably a dozen acts of heroism on that scene.”

Garrison also said firefighters could not be as cautious (this time) as they can with some structure fires because of the fear that employees or hotel guests might have been trapped inside. During a press conference, he vowed that the lost firefighters’ deaths will not be in vain, “We will improve. We will get better. We will learn from this, and we will keep on keepin’ on.”

Richard Mann, executive assistant chief of emergency operations, said his fellow firefighters had been lost because they took an aggressive approach. “It’s what (firefighters) are trained to do when there is a possibility of people trapped inside a burning building. They were serving the citizens of Houston. They took a calculated risk to save lives. In the end, they lost theirs.”

Although the cause of the blaze remains under investigation, we wanted to devote some blog space to remind our readers about kitchen-fire safety. Authorities suspect the Houston fire originated in a kitchen…perhaps involving grease. To BE SAFE, remember these fire-safe tips:

According to FEMA, the majority of kitchen fires are caused by cooking, followed by other heat or flame and appliance fires. Factors most responsible for ignition include:

  • Unattended equipment, such as people leaving food in the oven or on the stove and forgetting about it.
  • Misuse of material or product
  • Additional factors leading to ignition included combustibles being too close to a heat source, discarded flammable materials, or appliances accidentally turned on or not turned off after use.

Be Prepared for a Kitchen Fire:

  • Fire Extinguisher: An ABC Dry Chemical fire extinguisher is the best option since it won’t accelerate grease fires. Read the instructions, and know how to operate it.
  • Type B Fire Extinguisher on hand, which is for use on fires involving flammable liquids such as grease, gasoline, oil and oil-based plants.
  • Type C Fire Extinguisher in your kitchen, which is suitable for use on fires involving appliances, tools, or other equipment that is electrically energized or plugged in.
  • Every commercial kitchen should include a Class K Fire Extinguisher, which is intended for use on fires that involve vegetable oils, animal oils, or fats in cooking appliances. These extinguishers are generally found in commercial kitchens, such as those found in restaurants, cafeterias, and caterers. Thankfully, Class K extinguishers are now starting to find their way into the residential market for use in kitchens.
  • Smoke Detector: A smoke detector with a pause button is best in case of false alarms. Neighboring rooms to the kitchen should also have smoke detectors.
  • Oven Mitts: Protect hands with a thick, durable pair.

If A Cooking Fire Starts:

  • Water and grease don’t mix. In the event of a grease fire, NEVER POUR WATER ON IT or it will spread. Use a fire extinguisher, or when in doubt, get out and call for help.
  • Put a lid on it. If a pan catches fire, slide a lid over the pan and turn off the stove burner. Leave the lid on until it is completely cool.
  • Keep the oven or microwave door shut if fire starts. Turn off the heat. If the flames do not go out immediately, get out and call for help.
  • Stop, drop, and roll. If your clothes catch fire, smother them on the kitchen floor before getting out of the house.
  • Know when to stop fighting the fire yourself and call in a professional. For detailed instructions about this, check out the free FEMA Fire Prevention Booklet.

The Allied Universal Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services is a convenient and affordable solution to all of the training needs of your building(s). Choosing our service cuts property management training related workloads by 90% and saves you over 50% compared to conventional training! More importantly, IT SAVES LIVES!

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