Four Houston firefighters killed, one injured in historic fire

In the deadliest fire in the history of the Houston Fire Department, four firemen, three veterans and one rookie, were killed on Friday. A fifth fireman was hospitalized and is in critical condition. 

Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle/AP
Houston firefighters embrace near the scene of a fatal five-alarm fire at a motel on the Southwest Freeway Friday, in Houston. Four firefighters searching for people they thought might be trapped in a blazing Houston motel and restaurant Friday were killed when the part of the structure collapsed and ensnared them, authorities said.

One Houston firefighter remained hospitalized in critical condition Saturday, a day after a massive motel and restaurant fire killed four of his fellow firefighters.

A total of 14 were hospitalized Friday afternoon. Houston Fire Department spokesman Jay Evans said Saturday that other injured firefighters had been released overnight, but he did not have a precise count.

Among the four killed were veterans of the department and a newcomer just a month out of the fire training academy.

The fire broke out at a restaurant connected to the Southwest Inn along a busy freeway, and was the deadliest in the 118-year history of the department. Three firefighters died at the scene, while the fourth died at a hospital, according to the mayor's office and a medical examiner.

One of the dead is 29-year-old Robert Garner. His father, Jerry Veuleman, told the Houston Chronicle that Garner was proud of his work and had set his sights on becoming a firefighter after leaving the military. He joined the department in 2010.

"'Use your training. Don't be a hero. God will look after you,' " Veuleman recalled telling him. "God chose it was time to take Robert and the other firefighters. We are sorry, but we are also blessed."

The others who died were: 35-year-old Capt. Matthew Renaud, an 11-year veteran of the department; 41-year-old Robert Bebee, who joined almost 12 years ago; and 24-year-old rookie firefighter Anne Sullivan. She had graduated from the training academy in April.

Fire officials said they took a high risk in aggressively fighting the fire because they believed people were inside the motel. When a portion of the building collapsed, the firefighters were trapped.

In 1953 and 2000, two Houston firefighters were killed in a single fire. Three firefighters died in 1929 when a train slammed broadside into their engine.

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