Firefighters march in Houston on Wednesday to honor their fallen sister and brothers.
Photo credit: AP
Thousands of firefighters marched through Houston Wednesday toward a memorial service.
Photo credit: AP
HOUSTON -- It was a funeral this city has never witnessed, and hopes never will again.
Thousands of fire and rescue personnel from around the country and beyond the borders marched through the Hoston streets under the hot sun to honor their fallen sister and brothers who answered their final alarm last week at a motel fire.
In addition to the uniformed personnel, hundreds of fire apparatus were part of the procession. Residents lined the streets to wave. Some placed their hands over their hearts. Some waved flags. Some saluted.
Whatever the gestures, they wanted to show respect, to honor Capt. Matthew Renaud, 35, Engineer Operator Robert Bebee, 41, and Firefighters Robert Garner, 29, and Anne Sullivan, 24.
They paid the ultimate sacrifice looking for victims in a motel fire. Another 13 firefighters were injured.
Some of the injured attended the memorial service in wheelchairs.
"Mayday is the signal firefighters fear most. On May 31, 2013, Mayday was heard throoughout the Houston Fire Department," Fire Chief Terry Garrison said.
Calling the day the most catosptrophic in the department's history, a solemn chief said while firefighters' hearts are broken, spirits are strong.
He promised the relatives that no one will ever forget the sacrifices of their loved ones, and welcomed them to the fire department family.
"I stand before you respectful, humble, extremely proud..."
As all current and retired Houston firefighters stood up at Garrison's request, the chief pointed saying they would be there for the families not just today and tomorrow, but forever. He also encouraged his ranks that they remember their four fallen commrades as they go about their interactions with the public.
Firefighters from around the state are filling in at Houston firehouses Wednesday so their brothers and sisters can attend the memorial service and grieve.
Garrison presented each family with an American flag and spoke with them briefly.
Mary Sullivan said her daughter, Anne, was her hero long before last week.
She jokingly recalled wasn't it every mother's dream to hear their daughter wants to be a firefighter?
Sullivan said her daughter followed her heart, joined a volunteer fire department, and took EMT and firefighting classes. She took the fast track to complete her dream of becoming one of Houston's.
While she may have learned firefighting and EMS skills, she hadn't quite mastered desserts, her mother said as the crowd chuckled.
Sullivan added that Garner had taken her daughter under his wing, and was teaching her the ropes. He also helped her with the dishes although he'd been ordered not to.
Nicole Garner, Robert's oldest sister, spoke of how she admired his commitment and drive.
Becoming a Houston firefighter was the only thing her brother ever wanted to do. But, his plans were put on hold because he was colorblind, and didn't pass the test.
But, after a stint in the military including tours in Iraq, Garner returned home to try again.
"He was so proud of that letter. I could just picture the big Kool-Aid grin he had across his face. He was so excited that he was finally going to be able to realize his dream,
Until he started the academy, she said he never cracked a book. "He said he wanted to be the best, and if he finished first, he'd get his choice of stations."
Garner finished second, and got his selection -- Engine 68.
Engineer Operator Robert Bebee was widely known as an animal lover.
Fighting tears, his step-brother, Ian Kim, said he felt pain and was sad not only for his family but for the firefighting family.
"Take the time to talk or write to your loved ones because, for me, tomorrow never came to speak with my brother ever again..."
Kim added: "No one could ever take away the memories or spirit that each and every one of us shared with them, and as Robert would say: ‘I got this.’"
Tony Rocho started sharing his memories of his nephew, Capt. Matthew Renaud, wearing a sport coat. But, paused before more than 40,000 and took it off. He donned a t-shirt containing 51 in large numbers.
The shirt was a gift from his favorite nephew. A few days ago, he bleached the numbers on the front.
Rocho praised the firefighters from Engine 51 for their support, courage and generosity over the past few days. He said they made the families of the fallen feel more than welcome.
He cried reading a text Rocho sent telling him he'd been promoted.
In keeping with fire service tradition, a bell tolled 5-5-5 to signal the loss of the fallen firefighters.
A dispatcher called the names of the captain, the eningeer operator and firefighters. It was noted that they had answered their final alarm.