On Wednesday June 6, nearly 30,000 firefighters from all over the US, Canada, Mexico, came to Reliant Stadium to pay final respects to four Houston firefighters who were killed attempting to assure no one was trapped in a 6-alarm blaze at the Southwest Inn on US 59 in Houston on May31st. The tragic accident was the greatest loss of life in a single fire in Houston’s history. Two other firefighters were wounded and hospitalized, but given leave to attend the service. Another remains in critical condition.
The blaze apparently started in the kitchen of the nearby Bhojan Hindu restaurant, but quickly spread to the Southwest Inn. The roof caved in unexpectedly, trapping the firefighters. Deceased were Captain Matthew Renaud, age 35, of Station 51, serving on the HFD since 2001, Robert Bebee, age 41 of station 51, serving since 2001, Robert Garner, 29 of Station 68, serving since 2010, and Anne Sullivan, age 24, who graduated from the Fire academy in April 2012.
As Mayor Parker stated in her address at the Memorial Service and later in her press conference at City Hall, the loss of 4 officers in the line of duty would be a shocking blow to any fire department. Although Houston’s department is one of the largest in the country, the tragedy was felt by everyone. Firefighters have a strong fraternal bond, and a massive outpouring of support at times like this is not unusual.
Fire departments from several neighboring towns volunteered to cover Houston during the Memorial service to allow all HFD officers to attend.
A procession down Kirby Road from the 610 South Loop to La Concha began at 8:00 AM and continued until shortly before 10:00. Reliant Stadium was decorated with the hook and ladder trucks of Stations 51 and 68 framing the stage, and seating for the entire Houston Fire Department on the ground floor. Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Texas Governor Rick Perry gave brief statements honoring the fallen, as well as officers from Station 51 and Station 68 Houston Fire Chief Terry Garrison, Jeff Canyon, President of the Local 341 and the General Secretary of the International Association of Firefighters. NASA participated with a fly-over of planes in “missing man” formation.
Music was provided by members of the Houston Symphony, the Brentwood Baptist Chustch Choir, and the HFD Pipes and Drums.
A member of each of the victim’s families shared moving testimonies. Tony Rocha on behalf of the Renaud Family, Ian Kim on behalf of the Bebee family, Nicole Garner on behalf of the Garner family, and Mary Moore Sullivan on behalf of the Sullivan family. Following the ceremony each family was given a US flag that had flown over the Capitol in Washington, DC on May 31, 2013. Flags for this purpose are designated by the member of the House of Representatives for the district where the victim lived. In this case, the honors were performed by the offices of Gene Green, Sheila Jackson Lee, John Culberson, and Pete Olson.