SAN ANTONIO -- At a briefing on Friday, San Antonio Fire Department Chief Charles Hood fought back tears as he described the heartwrenching decision to leave fallen firefighter Scott Deem behind in the blaze that swept through a Northwest Side strip mall. He said he did it in order to save others.
- 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
"It was one of the most difficult decisions of my life, and I have no regrets for doing that because we saved lives by pulling those firefighters out," said Hood.
Hood said as an incident commander -- as a fire chief -- you have to look at the risk of going in and trying to save people, and you have to look at the reward.
After multiple attempts by the crews to locate Deem Thursday night, he said it was determined that conditions inside of the burning structure were too dangerous to continue search operations.
"We are disappointed that we could not get him out. But I could not be happier, we are prouder, of the efforts to give him every chance for survival. And we did that last night. We are fortunate that we did not lose three or more firefighters in this event," said Hood amid tears.
He applauded the efforts of the rapid intervention team that went into the inferno to pull the missing firefighters out.
"That was some of the most heroic firefighting that I have ever seen," said Hood.
Hood said it was important for people to know that SAFD is a good fire department, a safe fire department, a resilient fire department.
He said they will learn from this.
"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. Each and every one of us is going to call 911. So we are there when you are having your worst day. Unfortunately, last night we had our worst day," said Hood.
Hood said the department is built like a family, and that they will be there for Deem's family, as well as for injured firefighters Brad Phipps and Robert Vasquez.
"I call them kids because I feel like I am their father. Some of them are as old as I am. But these are my children. I love each and every one of them as such," he said.
As Hood discussed details of the incident, he added that, "a lot of times you can look at the fire death of firefighter and you say it was heroic, or you can say it was just an accident on the fire ground."
"This was no accident on the fire ground," said Hood. "This was sheer heroism that they were in that building attempting to make that search."
Chief Hood choked back tears as he described the scene, once the body of Deem was located and recovered from the fire debris.
"In this business you spend a third to half of your life with your brothers and sisters. We lined up. We brought his body out draped in the flag from Station 35, and loaded him up for escort to the coroner's office," said Hood.
He added that they "gave him the dignity that he deserves."
Hood said they were fortunate that they could locate Deem and get him out as quick as they did.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as members of other Texas fire services organizations have joined the investigation to determine the cause of the blaze.
Hood said this is going to be a recovery operation for the fire department.
"We are a resilient fire department. We will survive this. We will take any lessons that we have learned and we will share them with our members, and share them with other fire organizations throughout the world. Because if we can't take this opportunity, in the loss of one of our own, and not learn and share information, then we are not honoring him the way he should be honored," said Hood.
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.
San Antonio Mayor Ivy R. Taylor issued a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott requesting he order flags fly at half-staff in honor of Deem.
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