A state fire marshal’s review of the blaze that killed San Antonio firefighter Scott Deem found firefighters and commanders made several mistakes while fighting the major fire at Ingram Square Shopping Center.
San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said firefighters approached the blaze like a residential fire, rather than a commercial one, and failed to use a hose or rope when they entered the building to look for people possibly trapped inside.
That left firefighters without a water source, and could have left them stranded without a clear path to exit.
Later, as conditions grew worse to the point that no possible victims could have survived, the search-and-rescue operation continued, Hood said.
A firefighter who entered the building with several others that night pulled down ceiling tiles, bringing the fire down on him and Deem. That’s a tactic typically used to find the origin of the fire and not appropriate during a search-and-rescue mission, Hood said.
The official review was conducted by the Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office with assistance from the Houston Fire Department, and the full report is expected to be available Friday. Hood provided an outline to reporters on Thursday in an effort to be transparent with the public, he said.
Hood admitted that mistakes were made by the department, but he stressed that the real blame falls on the person who set the fire in May. He said none of the missteps made by the department led to Deem’s death or the injury of two other firefighters.
He also stressed that commanders made the decision to go on the offensive based on limited information, not knowing the fire was intentionally set or that no one was in the building.
Still, the department vowed to improve training and update policy to prevent future line of duty deaths. Some changes have already been implemented.
“There’s a void there that’s never going to be replaced,” Hood said. “We have to make sure we do justice to his loss.”
Deem, 31, had been with the San Antonio Fire Department for six years. He was married with two children. After his death, his wife gave birth to a third child named Aubrey Scott Deem.
Months after the fire, authorities arrested Emond Javor Johnson, 39, and charged him with one count of murder and four arson-related counts. They say Johnson used a disposable cigarette lighter to ignite a mixture of gasoline and oil spilled at the gym he owned, the Spartan Box, in order to get out of a newly signed lease.
Johnson remains in jail on a $1.63 million bail awaiting trial.