LODD Anniversary: Houston Southwest Inn Fire

Review lessons learned on the anniversary of a commercial structure fire that claimed four firefighters and injured several others.

Remember the fallen with lessons learned

Details of the secondary collapse on Side Alpha.
(Photo courtesy of the fire department/Analysis Diagram Courtesy of Buildingsonfire.com)

On May 31, 2013, a 35 year-old career captain, a 41 year-old career engineer operator, a 29 year-old career fire fighter, and a 24 year-old career fire fighter were killed when the roof of a restaurant collapsed on them during fire-fighting operations. 

Read the Report:
4 Career Fire Fighters Killed and 16 Fire Fighters Injured at Commercial Structure Fire

The captain was assigned to Engine 51 (E51). The engineer/operator was assigned to Ladder 51, but was detailed to E51 and assigned to the left jumpseat (E51B). The two fire fighters were assigned to Engine 68 (E68). Upon arrival, the captain of E51 (E51A) radioed his size-up stating they had a working fire in the restaurant with heavy smoke showing plus a temperature reading from his thermal imager. E51 made an offensive attack from Side Alpha with a 2½ inch pre-connect hoseline in the restaurant. 

District Chief 68 (D68) arrived on scene and established “Command”. He ordered E51 out of the building because the engine operator of E51 (E51D) advised that E51 was down to a quarter tank of water. Engine 68 had arrived on scene and had laid two 4-inch supply lines from E51 to a hydrant east of the fire building on the feeder road. Once E51 had an established water supply, E51’s crew re-entered the building. Engine 68 (E68) was ordered to back-up E51 on the 2½ inch hoseline. Engine 82 (E82) (4th due engine company) was pulling a 1¾ inch hoseline to the front doorway that E51 had entered, when the collapse occurred. 

The roof collapsed 12 minutes after E51 had arrived on-scene and 15 minutes and 29 seconds after the initial dispatch. The fire fighter from E51 (E51C) was at the front doorway and was pushed out of the building by the collapse. The captain from E82 called a “Mayday” and Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) operations were initiated by Engine 60. 

During the RIT operations, a secondary wall collapse occurred injuring several members of the rescue group. Due to the tremendous efforts of the Rescue Group, a successful RIT operation was conducted. The captain of E68 was located and removed from the structure by the Rescue Group and transported to a local hospital. The engineer operator from E51 (E51B) was removed from the structure by the Rescue Group and later died at a local hospital. 

A search continued for the captain of E51 and the two fire fighters from E68. Approximately 2 hours after the collapse, the body of the captain from E51 was located on top of the restaurant roof debris. The two fire fighters from E68 (E68B and E68C) were discovered underneath the restaurant roof debris. The officer and two fire fighters were pronounced dead at the scene. 

Note: The captain of Engine 68 (E68A) died on March 7, 2017 from complications of the severe injuries suffered in the restaurant fire on May 31, 2013.

Contributing Factors:

  • Fire burning unreported for 3 hours
  • Delayed notification of the fire department
  • Building construction
  • Wind impacted fire
  • Scene size-up
  • Personnel accountability
  • Fireground communications
  • Lack of fire sprinkler system

Key Recommendations:

  • Based upon fire department procedures, the strategy and tactics for an occupancy should be defined by the organization for fire-fighting operations. The Incident Commander should ensure that the strategy and tactics match the conditions encountered during initial operations and throughout the incident
  • Fire departments should review and update standard operating procedures on wind-driven fires which are incorporated into fireground tactics
  • Fire departments should integrate current fire behavior research findings developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Underwriter’s Laboratories (U.L.) into operational procedures by developing standard operating procedures, conducting live fire training, and revising fireground tactics


No posts to display