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4 firefighters killed in Houston fire mourned

Anne Sullivan was an athlete filled with energy who came out of high school with a focus on being a firefighter. But about a month after graduating from the Houston Fire Department Academy, the 24-year-old was among four firefighters who died while searching for people they thought might be trapped in a blazing Houston motel and restaurant.

"She had a lot of energy and had her heart set at that," her father, Jack Sullivan, told the Associated Press on Saturday.

Also killed in the collapse during the Friday afternoon fire at the Southwest Inn were Capt. Matthew Renaud, 35, who had been with the department for 11½ years; engineer operator Robert Bebee, 41, who joined the department almost 12 years ago; and firefighter Robert Garner, 29, who joined 2½ years ago.

The Houston Fire Department said 14 firefighters were taken to the hospital Friday. One remained in critical condition Saturday and another underwent surgery. The rest were in stable condition or were released.

The fire broke out just after noon at a restaurant connected to the Southwest Inn and spread to the motel. About 150 firefighters responded and got it under control in about two hours.

Fire Capt. Ruy Lozano said firefighters were turning to each other and their families to grieve.

"Any time one of your brothers or sisters are affected, it's not just that, it's also a reminder of the inherent danger of this profession. It reminds you. It reminds your family," said Lozano.

Officials said they took a high risk, aggressively fighting the fire because they believed people were in the motel. A portion collapsed, and firefighters were trapped.

Anne Sullivan, a soccer player and cross country runner in high school, joined the Wharton County Junior College Fire Academy after graduation. She graduated from the Houston Fire Department Academy in April.

Jack Sullivan was on his way home from work Friday when he heard about the fire and realized it was in his daughter's area.

"I'm thinking she could be involved, but maybe not," he said.

About 10 minutes later he heard that four firefighters had died and began crying in his car. As he approached his house, he saw an emergency vehicle parked outside and knew his daughter was among those who had died: "I knew right that instant."

He said that while he'd tried to sway his daughter into a less dangerous line of work — such as an EMT — he knew that her heart was set on being a firefighter. At 5-foot-2, she had the "grit and determination" to realize her dream, he said.

"There was no stopping her," Sullivan said.

Jerry Veuleman, who raised Garner since he was 14, told the Houston Chronicle that Garner set his sights on becoming a firefighter after leaving the military.

"'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."

Rafala Santos places flowers at a makeshift memorial at Fire Station 51 on Saturday in Houston. Four firefighters were killed Friday battling a fire at a restaurant and motel.

Associated Press

Rafala Santos places flowers at a makeshift memorial at Fire Station 51 on Saturday in Houston. Four firefighters were killed Friday battling a fire at a restaurant and motel.

4 firefighters killed in Houston fire mourned 06/01/13 [Last modified: Sunday, June 2, 2013 12:14am]
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