Remembering the Southwest Inn Fire: 9 years since HFD's deadliest day in history

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Tuesday, May 31, 2022
Today marks 9 years since HFD's deadliest day in history
Four firefighters were killed in a massive fire at the Southwest Inn on this day in 2013. A fifth firefighter died from his injuries four years later.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- It was the single biggest loss of life in the history of the Houston Fire Department.

Nine years ago, the Southwest Inn fire ultimately claimed the lives of five firefighters.

The four firefighters who died on the scene were Robert Bebee, Robert Garner, Mathew Renaud, and Anne Sullivan.

In March 2017, Captain Bill Dowling, who lost both of his legs in the fire, died of complications from the injuries sustained in the line of duty.

Firefighters gathered Tuesday afternoon where their colleagues paid the ultimate sacrifice to mark the anniversary of the tragic fire.

"Every year, we come to this site to remember to never forget them, and to send a message to the families of our fallen. Our mission starts with the families of our fallen who have given their lives in a line of service to the city of Houston," said Patrick "Marty" Lancton, the president of the Houston Professional Firefighters Association.

In the past when a firefighter began their tour of duty, it was the bell that would signal the beginning of that day shift. Through the day and night, each alarm was sounded by a bell. When a firefighter died in the line of duty, it was the mournful toll of the bell that solemnly announced a comrade's passing.

So on Tuesday, officials rang that bell to honor the five fallen.

The department has made a lot of changes since the fire.

RELATED: Captain William "Iron Bill" Dowling has died

The day it happened, radio communication was nearly impossible because too many radios were being used at the same time.

Now, radio traffic is limited, and when a commander sees a building is about to collapse, they can get that information out to everybody to evacuate the building.

Another problem was that there was no detailed information about the remodeled building, and firefighters basically went into the structure not knowing its layout.

SEE ALSO: 7 moments we'll remember from Capt. Iron Bill's funeral

At times somber and other times bittersweet, the funeral for Houston Fire Capt. 'Iron Bill' Dowling was fit for a hero.

The department has updated pre-fire plans that are available electronically to responding fire crews.

Also when the fire happened, the distress buttons on firefighters' uniforms were too sensitive, and they could accidentally set off. Now, they've been reprogrammed to require two separate pushes to activate.

The area has not changed much since the building was demolished after the fire.

The tributes have been there the entire time, a visual reminder of a terrible loss for the city.

Today marks four years since the deadly fire at Southwest Inn.