New Report on Deadly 2013 Fire Calls for More HFD Changes
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New Report on Deadly 2013 Fire Calls for More HFD Changes

On Wednesday, the Center for Disease Control's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released a 106-page report on the Houston Fire Department's response to a deadly 2013 fire at a hotel along the Southwest Freeway, revealing poor radio communications, melting breathing apparatuses, and a lack of preparedness for wind-driven fires.

The incident killed HFD firefighters Robert Bebee, Robert Garner, Matthew Renaud and Anne Sullivan, and injured 16 more after one of the buildings at the hotel complex collapsed. The NIOSH report made 15 recommendations for HFD, including updating its procedures for fighting wind-driven fires, creating better protocols for monitoring the health and safety of responding firefighters, testing its breathing apparatuses in higher temperatures, and improving its radio communications system.

This comes on the heels of recently released internal HFD documents which revealed problems with the department's response to the Memorial Day flood. Among those documents was an After-Action report filed by a senior captain, who wrote that HFD lacked enough resources to respond to the flood and experienced a number of critical failures— including problems with HFD's radio system.

Four firefighters died during the Southwest Inn fire in 2013.
Four firefighters died during the Southwest Inn fire in 2013.
Dianna Wray

A committee HFD formed to investigate the 2013 fire released its own report last September. That report described the departmental changes HFD had made since the incident, including many updates to procedures and guidelines, and technological improvements often focused on communications systems. These changes were all noted in the NIOSH report. 

But in a statement yesterday, Houston Professional Firefighters Association President Alvin White said that some of the changes described in the HFD's 2014 report have yet to be implemented, and urged the city to immediately adopt all 15 of the NIOSH report's recommendations to address HFD's continuing problems.

"The truth is, we still face staffing shortages, systemic radio failures and other technology problems, an aging fleet and facilities, and inconsistent provision of training," White said.  "Our obligations to our lost [firefighters] demand that lessons be learned from their sacrifices." 

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