Two firefighters died fighting a fire at a McDonald's restaurant in Houston early in the morning of February 14, 2000. One of them was Kimberly Smith, the first woman on the Houston Fire Department to die in the line of duty. She was 30 years old and had been on the department since 1994. Also killed when the roof collapsed on them was Engineer/Operator Lewis Mayo, 44, a 19-year department veteran. Mayo was pulled from the fire and taken to a local hospital, but could not be revived.
Smith and Mayo were assigned to Engine 76, though Smith was not working her regular shift day. Engine 76 was first on the scene, finding flames through a portion of the roof on their arrival. Along with their captain, Frank Cucino, they made an interior attack with a 1-1/2" hose line. About 20 minutes later, the incident commander ordered firefighters out of the building, but before Engine 76's crew could retreat, a large air-conditioning unit fell through the roof, scattering and disorienting the crew. Cucino managed to find the hose line and follow it out. Mayo's PASS device activated, and firefighters were able to locate and remove him within 30 minutes.
Firefighters continued their frantic efforts to recover Smith, but as time passed, it became more likely she could not be alive. Reports from the scene said firefighters outside cried, prayed, and hit the sides of their rigs in frustration. Her body was found four hours later, buried under rubble a few feet from an outside door.
Firefighters held an impromptu memorial after Smith's body was recovered. They gathered at Station 75 and, as the ambulance carrying her body drove slowly past, stood at attention in a "Wall of Honor" along the street and saluted.
Ironically, the deaths occurred on the fifth anniversary of the deaths of three Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, firefighters -- two men and a woman -- in a fire in a hillside residence.
Four suspects were arrested in connection with the Houston fire. It is believed they used a cutting torch to rob (or attempt to rob) the restaurant's safe, and then set the building on fire as they left.
Smith is survived by her parents, who live in California, and by her fiance. Mayo is survived by his wife and three children. A public memorial service was held for the two firefighters at Rice Stadium on February 18.More information about the fire here.
NETWORKING THE WOMEN OF TODAY'S FIREFIGHTING WORLD, AND PROVIDING RESOURCES TO HELP BUILD THE FIRE SERVICE OF THE FUTURE