The Houston Fire Department is mourning the loss of another veteran firefighter, who collapsed and died Wednesday after battling a fire in a vacant home in Kingwood.
Daniel Groover, 46, a 21-year veteran of the Houston Fire Department, was the fifth firefighter to die in the line of duty in the last 13 months, bringing more grief to the department. He apparently collapsed while in the empty two-story house and never recovered, said Fire Chief Terry Garrison.
"We consider this a big family. The fire service is a service where we all come in and work together for 30 years plus. This is tragic," Garrison said.
Groover's death came as HFD continues to investigate the May 2013 deaths of four firefighters and injuries to 13 others who were trapped inside an empty motel and restaurant in southwest Houston when the roof suddenly collapsed. A report on the blaze is expected later this summer from the State Fire Marshal's office.
Garrison took office in August 2010, in the wake of a tragic Easter Sunday fire at an empty home in 2009 that claimed the life of an HFD captain and a probationary firefighter. Federal fire investigators noted eight major failings at the fire, including an inadequate "size up" of the burning home before entering.
They also didn't use radios or their thermal imaging devices. Before the fatal blaze Wednesday, 12 Houston firefighters had died since 2000 while fighting fires in homes, a high-rise condo, in an empty fast-food restaurant and a popular ballroom.
At a news conference at the hospital where Groover died, Garrison defended the actions of his firefighters and said they absolutely believed there was a possibility they would be saving lives. He said there are times when a structure is so enveloped in flames they will not enter.
Trying to save lives
"We'll risk a lot to save savable lives, and that's what Daniel was doing," Garrison said. "He was risking a lot for what he and his crew thought were saveable lives."
Garrison said firefighters were dispatched to Wednesday's fire at 3:53 p.m. and arrived at the two-story home in the 1400 block of Mistletoe six minutes later.
Believing people could be inside, the firefighters launched a search-and-rescue operation, Garrison said.
As they reached the second floor, Groover collapsed, Garrison said.
"At this time, we don't know why he collapsed," said David Persse, HFD's director of Medical Services. "What we do know is that it wasn't like part of the building collapsed on him or anything like that."
A mayday alert was sounded about 25 minutes after the firefighters' arrival, said Executive Assistant Chief Richard Mann.
"With nobody in the front yard, there was uncertainty whether somebody was in the house or not," said Mann. "So they did what firefighters do and went in to make sure that structure was clear."
The residents of the home were not there, and no rescues were conducted, HFD confirmed. The origin of the fire is under investigation, as is Groover's cause of death.
"He died doing what the community expects to do, which is to save people's lives,'' Mann said.
HFD officials said members of his crew were with him when he collapsed and immediately got him out of the residence and began CPR. Efforts to revive him continued on the way and at the hospital in Kingwood. Groover was pronounced dead at the hospital.
A procession of Houston firefighters, accompanied by bagpipers playing "Amazing Grace" late Wednesday escorted Groover's remains from the Kingwood Medical Center to a nearby funeral home.
Bryan Sky-Eagle, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association Union, said firefighters lost radio contact with Groover as he was inside the burning home.
When the mayday alarm was sounded, he was quickly located.
"He was doing an interior attack and lost radio communication. The incident commander activated the Rapid Intervention Team and they did find him. They found him down, and they got him out,"
Sky-Eagle said. "They had a hard time intubating him because of burns to his mouth and throat."