Hotel inferno kills 4 firefighters

HOUSTON — One Houston firefighter remained hospitalized in critical condition Saturday, a day after a massive motel and restaurant fire killed four of his fellow firefighters.

A total of 14 were hospitalized Friday afternoon. Houston Fire Department spokesman Jay Evans said Saturday that other injured firefighters had been released over night, but he did not have a precise count.

Among the four killed were veterans of the department and a newcomer just a month out of the academy.

The fire broke out at a restaurant connected to the Southwest Inn along a busy freeway, and was the deadliest in the 118-year history of the department. Three firefighters died at the scene, while the fourth died at a hospital, according to the mayor’s office and a medical examiner.

One of the dead is 29-year-old Robert Garner. His father, Jerry Veuleman, told the Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/1aMsrEe ) that Garner was proud of his work and had set his sights on becoming a firefighter after leaving the military. He joined the department in 2010.

“‘Use your training. Don’t be a hero. God will look after you,’ ” Veuleman recalled telling him. “God chose it was time to take Robert and the other firefighters. We are sorry, but we are also blessed.”

The others who died were: 35-year-old Capt. Matthew Renaud, an 11-year veteran of the department; 41-year-old Robert Bebee, who joined almost 12 years ago; and 24-year-old rookie firefighter Anne Sullivan. She had graduated from the training academy in April.

Fire officials said they took a high risk in aggressively fighting the fire because they believed people were inside the motel. When a portion of the building collapsed, the firefighters were trapped.

In 1953 and 2000, two Houston firefighters were killed in a single fire. Three firefighters died in 1929 when a train slammed broadside into their engine.

Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com

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