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San Antonio Firefighter Scott Deem Killed Battling 4-Alarm Blaze

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood addresses reporters following Thursday night's fire. Fire officials and members of city council stand behind him. May 19th 2017

The San Antonio Fire Department has suffered the loss of one of its own.  Thirty-one-year-old firefighter Scott Deem was killed in a four alarm fire at a northwest side strip mall overnight.  Deem was called ‘heroic’ by Fire Chief Charles Hood and remembered at several memorials set up around San Antonio.

"We are heartbroken. We are disappointed that we could not get him out. But I could not be happier about or prouder of the efforts to give him every chance of survival,” Hood said

Credit San Antonio Professional Fire Fighter's Association Facebook Page
Thirty-one year old fire fighter Scott Deem was killed in Thursday's 4-alarm fire.

A tearful Chief  Hood detailed the events of Thursday night’s four alarm fire at the Ingram Square shopping center that took the life of Scott Deem.  More than 80 units responded. Mayday calls were made when fire fighters went missing during the blaze.

“A missing firefighter’s emergency signal was activated and it was identified as a fire fighter from Ladder 35,” the chief added.

Two rescuers were injured while trying to find him in the smoke that filled Spartan Gym.  It was Chief Hood who made the call to end the search when the fire became too powerful.

“It was my decision that I could not lose 10 or 15 fire fighters because the men and women in this organization would have continued to pour into the building  and risk their lives to pull their brother out,” Hood explained. “We had to make a decision that we were going to go defensive; one of the most difficult decisions of my life and no regret for doing that.”

When Deem’s body was found, firefighters draped it in a flag from his fire station.

“We gave him the dignity that he deserves,” Hood said. “We brought him to a line of fire fighters. A lot of them work with this kid and in this business you spend a third to half of your life with your brothers and sisters. We lined up when we brought his body out, draped in the flag from Station 35 and loaded him for escort to the coroner’s office.”

Firefighter Scott Deem entered the fire academy in 2011. He worked out of Fire Station 35 at Culebra and Loop 410. The station is just a mile from the strip mall where he died.  Deem leaves behind his wife Jennifer who is six months pregnant; his 13-year old daughter named Dakota; and 7-year-old son Tyler.

“They’re in our prayers. We love them. We will support them like no one else will. We will walk through this life storm with their family,” the chief said.

Credit Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
A rescue worker from the Luling Fire Department stands outside Ingram Square to a flowers left by passersby.

Citizens created a memorial to Deem by leaving flowers and balloons at the downtown public safety headquarters. Martha Chapa left a bouquet of white flowers. Her son is a firefighter.

“I was told if you leave fresh flowers they reach heaven right away and I want firefighter Deem to know he’s not left behind. His job was well done and left. We’re not going to forget him. It doesn’t stop here,” Chapa said.

Story continues below photo

Credit Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Fire officials survey what's left of the strip mall following Thursday's fire.

The strip mall was closed off to the public as fire personnel surveyed the building. Cars passed by as drivers looked at the hollowed out building. Some parked and handed flowers to police to lay them at another growing memorial. Joe Alvarez is a former firefighter. He worked at Station 35 and retired before Deem started his career. He stopped by the strip mall to pay his respects.

“I feel like I’ve lost a brother, a member of my family.”

Chief Hood says he will take members of the fire department to the spot where Deem died.

“We will take every man and woman in the San Antonio Fire Department through that building. It will be therapeutic for them to see where the colleague, their loved one, their friend died. What that building looks like. We will do that before we celebrate his home going.”

Credit Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
A red and black banner hangs over Fire Station 35.

Deem is the first San Antonio firefighter to die responding to a fire since May of 1997.

Two other firefighters were injured Thursday night.  Robert Vasquez was taken to University Hospital and released this morning.  Brad Phipps suffered serious burns and remains at San Antonio's military medical center in critical but stable condition.

Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules