On The Hot Seat

Lester Tyra's short reign as chief of the Houston Fire Department has been filled with controversy. Can he quench the flames fast enough to save his job?

As a sort of olive branch to Houston's Hispanic community, which is upset over the deaths of Daniel Lopez and Jose Ruiz, Tyra recently created a panel charged with improving relations between Latinos and the fire department. (A few days later, the mayor formed his own committee to help resolve public safety issues in HFD.) Tyra also decided not to move the Station 18 ladder truck to another fire station as earlier planned, a proposal that had met with a good deal of criticism in the predominantly Hispanic eastside neighborhood.

Meanwhile, in the wake of Daniel Lopez's tragedy, his family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Houston and the firefighters who were on duty at Station 18.

"I think the policy is set at the top," says attorney John Tavormina, who represents the boy's family. "And that is what goes through the department. I think the firefighters have been neglected, and somebody needs to take a look at the whole system. You can't put Band-Aids on it, and I think that's what they are trying to do. They have a problem here and a problem there. Somebody's got to look at the whole system."

Daniel Lopez looked forward to playing with his niece this summer near Station 18.
Deron Neblett
Daniel Lopez looked forward to playing with his niece this summer near Station 18.

But as he has done all along, Chief Tyra talks as if the fires that surround him were merely barbecue flames instead of the towering infernos they seem to be.

"People say the fire department is under investigation, or the fire chief is inadequate," says Tyra. "Simply because we have an isolated incident where a person fails to follow guidelines, or because of accusations made by the public, we ought not jump to conclusions. Because the men and women of this department bust their tails every day to do the job."

The entire fire department may not be under investigation -- yet -- but whether Tyra admits it or not, it is under fire, and he is under the gun. He could soon have a lot more time for golf again.

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