San Antonio Firefighters Mourn Death of One of their Own in NW Side Strip Mall Fire
SAN ANTONIO -- A San Antonio firefighter has died and two others are seriously hurt after a fire swept through a shopping center on the city's Northwest Side, where parts of the building collapsed and forced crews to retreat.
- Firefighter Scott Deem killed in 4-alarm blaze at Ingram Square shopping center
- Deem is a 6-year veteran of the San Antonio Fire Department
- Two firefighters were injured but expected to survivie
- Hurt firefighters ID'd as Brad Phipps & Robert Vasquez
- At height of blaze 61 fire vehicles were at the scene
The San Antonio Fire Department has confirmed that six-year veteran Scott Deem, 31, of Fire Station 35, was the firefighter killed in the line of duty.
"We run over 800 unit responses every single day. And we go out and take care of the citizens in this community in heroic fashion -- taking care of them as they are having their worst days. Unfortunately, last night we had our worst day," said SAFD Chief Charles Hood as he opened a briefing on the blaze Friday.
At the briefing, Hood identified the injured firefighters as Brad Phipps and Robert Vasquez.
Phipps suffered serious burn injuries and is in critical but stable condition at San Antonio Military Medical Center, Hood said.
He said Vasquez suffered non-life-threatening injuries and is now home recovering.
Hood said Deem was a married father of two kids, with one on the way.
The fire chief added that there was no one to blame for Deem's death.
He said firefighting is one of the most dangerous jobs on the face of the earth.
-- The Fire --
The 4-alarm fire started around 9 p.m. Thursday at a gym within the Ingram Square shopping center on Ingram Road, just north of Loop 410.
Witnesses said people inside the shopping mall fled the flames.
At the height of the fire, 61 fire vehicles were on scene.
Over a dozen firefighters went inside looking for anyone who needed help escaping, but when the building began to collapse, the firefighters were forced to evacuate.
Hood said once crews evacuated they noticed that multiple firefighters were missing -- including Deem.
Rescue crews went in, but the structure of the building suddenly started to collapse, and Hood said they were forced to leave Deem behind.
The chief choked back tears when he described what happened next.
"It was a very rough decision to leave a firefighter behind -- that's not what we do. But we had the risk of probably losing an additional 15-20 firefighters if we did not go defensive on this fire," said Hood.
Deem was later found dead among the debris.
"We had firefighters that fought fire desperately tonight to try to save their friend's life," Hood said. "You work with people for a third of your life in this job, and any one of us would lay down our lives for another firefighter. They fought heroically."
A procession of about 100 firefighters stood in salute after Deem was placed in an ambulance and taken to the medical examiner's office.
Hood said the firefighters who were on scene were taken to a crisis intervention team.
"At this time, I would like to ask the citizens of San Antonio to give us your prayers tonight because we are hurting. But we're going to continue to do the good job that we always do," Hood said.
The cause of the fire is still being investigated.
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With the death of Deem, the city has now had a total of 20 firefighters who have "sacrificed their lives in the line of duty" within its history, according to the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association.
SAFD said the last Firefighter it lost during an incident was Jesse F. Bricker Jr., who died on May 4, 1997.
-- Texas Flags at Half-Staff --
Mayor Ivy R. Taylor has issued a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott requesting he order flags fly at half-staff in honor of Deem.
"We are blessed to have an outstanding fire department made up of some of the best and bravest men and women in the country. Unfortunately, last night one of our best did not make it home," said Taylor. "We will always be in debt to Mr. Deem and the sacrifice he and his family have made. Asking the flags be flown at half-staff is just one way we as a city can pay tribute to his service."
Flags will remain at half-staff until interment.
"I was at the emergency room last night and was reminded not just about the bravery and strength of the men and women in uniform, but also of their loved ones who pray something like this never happens," said Mayor Taylor.
San Antonians who wish to leave flowers or other items in memory of Deem can do so at the Public Safety Headquarters, located at 315 S. Santa Rosa Ave.
"This morning, members of the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association shared with me a lot about who Scott Deem was and what he meant to the men and women he served beside," said Taylor. "He was a family man, a husband, a father, and a firefighter. He was a good friend to everyone who knew him and was an asset to the San Antonio Fire Department in every sense of the word."
-- Governor's Reaction --
Gov. Abbott released a statement on Friday saying that Deem, and the two other injured firefighters, are in his thoughts and prayers.
"Cecilia and I extend our heartfelt sympathies to the Deem family during this unimaginably difficult time," said Abbott. "Those who put their lives on the line to serve others deserve our deepest respect, and we can never say thank you enough. In the days to come, we ask that all Texans join us in sending their well wishes to those injured in this incident for a full and speedy recovery, and in keeping everyone affected by this fire in their thoughts and prayers."
We'll bring you more updates on this developing story right here on Spectrum News.
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