Cause of Multi-Fatality Houston Fire Undetermined

The Texas State Fire Marshal's Office has released its report on the May 31, 2013, fire at a restaurant in which four members of the Houston Fire Department were killed. The cause of the fire is unknown, the report states.

The Texas State Fire Marshal's Office has released its report on the May 31, 2013, fire at a Houston restaurant in which four members of the Houston Fire Department were killed. "The cause of the fire is unknown. Numerous hypotheses were ruled out. The incident classification is UNDETERMINED," the report states.

The four HFD members who died were Capt. EMT Matthew Renaud, 35, a 12-year veteran of the department who died of smoke inhalation; Engineer Operator Robert Bebee, 41, a 12-year veteran of the department who died of smoke inhalation with thermal injuries; Firefighter EMT Robert Garner, 29, a three-year veteran of the department who died of compressional asphyxia; and Probationary Firefighter Anne Sullivan, 24, who had graduated from the HFD Fire Academy in April 2013. She died of compressional asphyxia, blunt head trauma, and smoke inhalation, the report states.

Fifteen Houston firefighters reported injuries from their response to this fire, called the Southwest Inn fire in the report.

The report begins by acknowledging the assistance of NIOSH, HFD, the city of Houston's police department, ATF, Dallas Fire-Rescue, and the Texas Commission on Fire Protection in the investigation.

The report states that the structure had no fire sprinklers or automatic fire alarm system, and it complied with the code for these features according to the Houston Fire Inspection Division. It was equipped with a manually operated fire alarm system, portable fire extinguishers, a fixed suppression system for the kitchen commercial cooking equipment and a vent hood -- and the cooking line and vent hood were protected with an automatic fire suppression system.

Investigators were unable to determine exactly where the fire originated but concluded the area of origin was a large area that included a utility room, a walk-in cooler, and the concealed attic space above this area.

The report contains eight findings and recommendations. Among the findings are these:

  • There were no pre-fire plans of the structure; while HFD had responded previously to the location, "there is no indication of a record of a site diagram, fire protection systems, or construction methods."
  • Initial entry crews did not perform a 360-degree scene size-up.
  • Firefighters weren't aware of the severity of the fire conditions in the attic space overhead.
  • Situation reports and key discoveries weren't communicated consistently to Command, which did not communicate to the interior attack crew the conditions noted on the building's exterior.
  • There was a lack of personnel accountability.
  • "Radio conditions were difficult if not impossible."
  • A personnel accountability report was not completed immediately after the collapse and Mayday call.

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