HOUSTON - The Southwest Inn fire was tough for the Houston Fire Department, because on top of the loss of life, an investigation found several issues with the handling of the blaze.
In 2013, it took just 15 minutes and 29 seconds from the 911 call at the Southwest Inn to the death of four Houston firefighters that day.
It has taken years to investigate the fire and improve responses.
Perhaps the report’s biggest finding was that “the radio communication was difficult, if not impossible”. This was because so many radios were being keyed and transmissions stepped on top of each other.
Since then, HFD has given incident commanders priority.
Executive Fire Chief Richard Manning explained, “If he (the commander) sees a building is about to collapse, he can get that information out to everybody on scene to evacuate the building.”
Additional training reinforced ways to minimize radio traffic, so fewer messages are on the airways.
Another major finding? There were no building schematics or pre-fire plans of the remodeled structure. Such plans were on paper and kept in binders.
Manning said, “We’ve taken all our previous paper pre-fire plans and put them into a Digital Sandbox so they are electronically available to crews that are responding.”
There was no initial 360 degree scene size up and there were communication problems.
So HFD has completed or is completing three new training programs.
Manning said the largest is Fireground Survival.
It took almost a year to get the all 4,000 members of the department through the three days of training. It was paid for by a million dollar grant.
Another major issue were the faulty May Day buttons. They were so sensitive that accidentally brushing them could set them off resulting in many false alarms.
They have been reprogrammed to require a two second push to activate.