Sept. 01--Firefighters had nearly contained a small fire at the Southwest Inn last year when the roof collapsed, killing four and sending their colleagues into a chaotic dash to rescue them.
A draft copy of a Houston Fire Department report reveals that some firefighters abandoned procedures, creating confusion about who was in charge, cluttering radio channels with non-essential transmissions and sometimes delaying assistance from new units who could not drive close to the scene nor knew where to park.
Significant technical challenges with the new radio system, implemented less than a year earlier, fueled the disorganization as strong winds whipped the fire into a much larger blaze.
The draft report, leaked to the media Monday, contains the first detailed timeline of HFD's response and makes more than 200 recommendations to improve safety and organization for future catastrophic events.
It does not directly address whether anything could have been done to save the lives of firefighters Matthew Renaud, Robert Bebee, Robert Garner and Anne Sullivan nor does it identify a cause for the fire that killed them. numerous recommendations to improve safety.
"The process of evaluating the events leading up to this loss were not taken lightly and an assertive effort was made to try and understand what had fully happened that day," reads the draft report.
It is the first of three expected reports on the May 31, 2013 blaze. The State Fire Marshal's Office has said it is still working on its investigation, as is one to be completed by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
The firefighters died when a near-contained kitchen fire exploded into a massive blaze following a roof collapse. It was the deadliest day in the department's history and injured several more who entered the blaze attempting a rescue.
The 193-page report includes scores of recommendations for improving the safety of operations, such as clarifying who should give orders during emergency recovery operations, giving stern warnings to follow existing procedures, and adding bar codes to all equipment so it can be linked to an individual firefighter in the case of a death.
A 20-member committee convened by HFD after the deadly fire repeatedly emphasized in the report that the radio system was a serious problem the day of the blaze, including procedures on issuing commands and the quality of the transmissions. They also attributed the growth of the blaze to strong winds.
The fire department shared the report in a meeting about a month ago with members of Firehouses 51 and 68 and the family members of the 7 firefighters who were either slain or most injured in the behemoth blaze, according to Mary Sullivan, mother of one of the firefighters who died in the fire and who attended the meeting.
"Sullivan's 24-year-old daughter, Anne Sullivan, died in the blaze, along with her three co-workers.
David Renaud, whose younger brother, Matthew, died in the fire, hasn't been able to read all of the details from the day his brother died.
He said the meeting, and the contents of the most recent report answered many questions, but raised others.
"Why did it take so long to get in there, stuff like that, when does it get called from 1 to 2 to 3 alarm?" he asked.
He wondered why firefighters from Station 68 followed Station 51 firefighters into the station when they didn't have a fire hose with them.
"There's -- -- on my end -- -- there's always going to be some questions," he said.
The report gave the clearest timeline to date of what happened, minute by minute, during the fire, Sullivan said.
"It really goes through it minute by minute -- the transmissions that occurred between command staff and boots on the ground. It's very detailed in that way, in all investigating they did. In spite of all that, there's still alot of questions," she said. Chief among them: there is still no indication of what caused the fire.
"Nothing is going to bring them back," she said. "But moving forward, hopefully we can have this never happen again."
Staff writer Lomi Kriel contributed to this story
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