Exclusive: One of 13 firefighters injured in hotel fire speaks out

June 7, 2013 4:33:36 AM PDT
For the first time, we are hearing from one of the 13 Houston firefighters injured in Friday's fire at the Southwest Inn motel.

Marcus Hernandez was one of the five firefighters who was identified as injured from last week's deadly fire in southwest Houston. He is an engineer operator and paramedic assigned to Station 3 who could have gotten more time off but instead chose to get to work.

In his two decades with the Houston Fire Department, Hernandez has stocked his ambulance more times than he can remember. On Thursday, it had more meaning.

"For me, it really helps to be here," he said.

Thursday was Hernandez's first shift back since the day he'll never forget.

"I still smell the smoke," he said.

Last Friday, the paramedic was one of the 150 HFD personnel who responded to the fire at the Southwest Inn.

"It was that sick feeling that you know where you need to be and you pray for the best," he said.

His crew, Medic 3, was posted for what seemed like forever waiting on a seriously injured firefighter to be rescued from the burning building.

"We weren't going to go anywhere until we had somebody on our stretcher," Hernandez said.

All the while, Hernandez was inhaling the thick smoke.

"I was coughing up a lot of soot," he said.

He got his patient -- his fallen brother -- to the hospital and then it was his turn for treatment. While three firefighters, including the one he transported, remain in the hospital, he was in only a few hours. And he's grateful to get back to those who need his help.

"I felt very lucky because I was a lot closer than I really expected to be," Hernandez said. "And I'm glad that I was there to take care of my brother that had fallen,"

Hernandez spent three years as a firefighter before becoming a paramedic and noted this was his first time ever to have smoke inhalation. He is appreciative of all the community support and plans to head to one of the private funerals not long after getting off his 24-hour shift at 6:30am Friday.

INVESTIGATORS ASKING FOR HELP
The cause of the 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.

HOW YOU CAN HELP
Firefighters are not the types of people who sit still while others are in need. They've started selling T-shirts with the names of each of the fallen firefighters emblazoned on the back. One-hundred percent of proceeds go to the 100 Club. The 100 Club is supporting the victims and families. Anyone interested in donating can do so online at the100club.org.

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