Houstonians pray as firefighters mourn fallen comrades killed in motel blaze

June 2, 2013 9:00:07 PM PDT
Two days after four firefighters were killed while battling a motel blaze in southwest Houston, the shock remains as firefighters grieve the loss of their comrades and civilians turn to their faith for strength. And now, the Houston Fire Department is reaching out to the community for help with the fire investigation.

The cause of the five-alarm fire at the Southwest Inn is still under investigation. The Houston Fire Department Arson Division is taking the lead, with assistance from the State Fire Marshal's Office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Houston Police Department.

An HFD spokesperson tells us that Arson investigators are now seeking witnesses to the tragic blaze. Anyone who has information that may help investigators is urged to call 713-247-8900.

A PROCESSION OF HEROES

The bodies of four heroes made their way down the streets of southeast Houston on Sunday from the medical examiner's office to local funeral homes. Along the way, public servants and civilians lined the streets. Firefighters formed a "Wall of Honor," saluting their fallen comrades -- Captain EMT Matthew Renaud, Engineer Operator EMT Robert Bebee, Firefighter EMT Robert Garner and Probationary Firefighter Anne Sullivan.

There were no words needed. Just silence and solidarity as the bodies of four firefighters were escorted to local funeral homes Sunday.

Grace Slazo went to high school with Bebee.

"He was a funny guy, sweet, good looking, over all a great guy," she said. "Overall, a big loss for the community."

They say firefighters are a family. For Oscar Pedraza and his uncle Mark Limon, it is literally the case. They, too, came out Sunday to support their extended family.

"Surreal," Limon said. "It doesn't feel like it's real."

Despite the heartache, there is no doubt that firefighting is still their calling.

"Don't think we'd second-guess getting back on a truck or making another run," Pedraza said. "That's the way we serve our brothers."

But you didn't have to wear the uniform to pay tribute Sunday.

"It's devastating," Katie Schanebille said. "Their lives were dedicated to serving others and helping out, and they lost their lives trying to save others."

There are questions about the events, decisions and actions of that day, but those answers will come in due time. For now, it is simply about honoring and remembering the four we lost.

"There just aren't words to put together, I guess, to describe it," Pedraza said.

A joint memorial service is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, but the location and other details are still pending. We'll keep you updated as new details on services come into the newsroom.

UPDATE ON THE INJURED

One of the 13 Houston firefighters injured in the blaze remained in critical condition Sunday.

HFD spokesman Jay Evans said in total three firefighters were still hospitalized following Friday afternoon's collapse, which turned out to be the deadliest in the department's 118-year history.

Evans said the two other firefighters who remained in the hospital were in good and stable condition.

In a release Sunday, HFD officials stated: "Our deepest thoughts and prayers are with not only those friends and family of those who made the ultimate sacrifice but also those who were injured and all members of our department."

A CALL FOR PRAYER

Since the tragedy, the Houston Fire Department has asked the city to pray for the families of the fallen and those who were injured.

As three injured firefighters lay in the hospital Sunday morning, people of faith joined together to answer that call.

A prayer service was held at the Southwest Inn, which is the same location where those firefighters lost their lives. Stormy weather postponed the service and kept the crowd thinner than organizers were hoping for, but their voices were loud as they lifted up the victims, their families, firefighters, police, EMTs and city officials in prayer. Many others who were not able to attend tell us they said their own prayers in churches and homes across the area.

Houston firefighter George Saldana attended the prayer service with his son Sunday.

"I lost two friends, but it could have been any one of us," Saldana said. "And I brought my boy out, and that could have been me."

Saldana and fellow firefighter Jason Abeldon work at HFD Station 51, which lost Renaud and Bebee in Friday's tragedy.

The two other fallen firefighters -- Garner and Sullivan -- worked for nearby Station 68.

"Bebee was the life of the party," Saldana said. "Matt was just there to poke him with the stick. And Bebee would start something or try to fix something." dark

"Bebee, I've known him mostly my whole life," Saldana's young son said.

"It doesn't seem real," Abeldon said. "Every now and then you see their name on something or pass up their photos in the hallway of the station and you stop and look at it."

A prayer service was held Sunday just feet away from where the four were killed.

"I think we're stronger with all of us together, holding each other up," Saldana said. "But once we go our separate ways and we're at home, for me, when you get your downtime, it kind of hits you harder."

These men have already returned to work, leaning on each other for comfort as they continue to serve.

"We don't need a whole lot," Abeldon said. "Just care and think about us every now and then."

We've seen many Houstonians caring and getting involved over the past two days, even though they never met the fallen firefighters.

Saturday, we watched donations pile up at local fire stations. People were dropping off flowers, balloons, and meals.

Both the fire department and the mayor's office have sent grief counselors to talk to the firefighters. Remember, they still have to show up to work even as they grieve.

"Anytime one of your brother or sisters are affected, it's not just that. It's also the reality of the inherent danger of this profession," HFD Captain Ruy Lozano said. "It reminds you. It reminds your family. The firefighters at the station are going through the same thing. Not just for them, but they also think about it when they get home and their kids ask them, 'what happened?' How do you tell them? So it's just a difficult time."

HOW YOU CAN HELP

The Red Cross is providing assistance. Additionally, the 100 Club is supporting the victims and families. Anyone interested in donating can do so online at the100club.org.

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