Houston Trails Only New York in Firefighter Deaths Since 2000
Study Examined Major City Line of Duty Fatalities While Fighting Fire

Updated: 02-28-2005 09:56:15 AM

Houston Chronicle via Associated Press
HOUSTON (AP) -- Capt. Grady Burke's funeral last week was the fifth major memorial for the Houston Fire Department in the past five years, leading some firefighters to question why so many of their brethren have died.

The The Houston Chronicle, analyzing Web sites of the U.S. Fire Administrationh and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation , found that Houston trails only New York City among major cities in deaths fighting fires since 2000.

In addition to the 343 firefighters killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, New York City has lost nine firefighters since 2000.

''Is it a run of bad luck? I can tell you I don't know,'' Fire Chief Phil Boriskie said. ''Man, losing one firefighter hurts. Two or three is unacceptable. Now, we are at five in five years I don't know the words for this.''

Burke died Feb. 19 when an abandoned house became engulfed in flames and the ceiling fell, trapping him. Preliminary information indicates that Burke led a crew into the building because he believed someone might be inside, Boriskie said.

The crew lacked a thermal imaging camera, which can detect body heat from people inside burning buildings or help firefighters see fires burning inside walls.

The Houston fire department's use of thermal imaging cameras has been questioned before.

Investigations by the department and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health indicated that the deaths of two firefighters in 2000 and one in 2001 may have been prevented if the cameras had been used correctly.

Boriskie said only ladder trucks carry thermal imaging cameras. But the department has obtained a grant to obtain 90 cameras, and one will be put on every fire engine, possibly by the end of the year, he said.

''We will analyze what has occurred. We will be proactive with recommendations,'' Boriskie said. ''Any active changes will be meticulous and calculated and geared toward the safety of my firefighters and the citizens of Houston.''

Nationally, on average, 100 to 110 firefighters are killed on duty each year, said Rich Braddee, a manager at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, an arm of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department that investigates all U.S. firefighter fatalities.

Most of those deaths occur at the station, in traffic accidents and in other non-fire situations.

Braddee said the five Houston deaths in five years ''might be a little on the high side for the size of the department.''