Reliant Stadium was a solemn venue Wednesday morning as thousands arrived to pay their respects to four Houston Fire Department members who lost their lives in a motel fire on May 31.
The entire Texans team, including coaches, players and football personnel, attended the public memorial service for Captain Matthew Renaud, Engineer-Operator Robert Bebee and firefighters Robert Garner and Anne Sullivan. Coach Gary Kubiak moved the Texans' Wednesday practice from 11:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. so that the team could attend the 10 a.m. ceremony.
"Our community means so much to us as an organization; that goes without saying," Kubiak said. "These players, they come from all over the country and they become a Houstonian. We put a team together and get very close to our city, and it's something that we talked about as a team with the players the other day. We get so much support from them, and it's time for us to show our support for these families and the people that serve our city on a daily basis."
The memorial service included remarks from Texas governor Rick Perry, Houston mayor Annise Parker, Houston fire chief Terry Garrison and a presentation of the American flag and IAFF Medal of Honor to the families of the fallen heroes. The Texans stayed for the entire three-hour ceremony, sitting quietly in a back corner section of seats on the floor level of the stadium.
"It's something that as players, we talked with the coaches and just tried to work it out when we found out it was going to take place in our building," Texans quarterback Matt Schaub said. "It's important for us, being members of this community, to be a part of that community, and when something like this happens, we all rally around each other as citizens. I think it says a lot about what's important to us as a football team and an organization."
A total of 14 people were hospitalized when a restaurant connected to the Southwest Inn caught fire on May 31. Renaud, Bebee, Garner and Sullivan, whose stations rushed to the scene near the Southwest Freeway, were killed in the tragedy.
"It's interesting; we've had a few things happen this offseason with coaches' families and a few things going on," Kubiak said. "It kind of makes you stop, and we've got a lot of other things other than football going on in our lives that we've got to handle, too. We want to help these families handle this situation.
"Obviously, you know something's going on all morning and to see the fire trucks lined up down Kirby (Drive) as we walked over (for practice). I think it keeps things in perspective."
Governor Perry summarized the significance of the firefighters' ultimate sacrifice best when he told the victims' family members, "Your loved ones gave other people a second chance at life."