Fallen Houston firefighters' families sue Motorola

The suit claims the newly installed digital radios repeatedly knocked firefighters off the air, forcing them to use hand signals


HOUSTON — The families of four Houston firefighters who died while battling the Southwest Inn hotel fire in May 2013 have filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit over the department's troubled radio system.

KHOU reported that the newly installed digital radios repeatedly knocked firefighters off the air, forcing them to use hand signals instead of the city's new $140 million communications system. Firefighters Robert Bebee, Robert Garner, Matthew Renaud and Anne Sullivan died after a ceiling collapsed on them.

The lawsuit, which claims radio calls were "bonked" out of the system 339 times in the first half-hour after firefighters arrived, names Motorola and five other businesses involved with the radio system.

"The firefighters went in emboldened, believing that they would have sustained and reliable communications with their comrades, that if they got in trouble that they would be able to get fished out," attorney Ben Hall said. "That happened not to be the case. Then you had rescuers who followed them to try and rescue them and then they got in trouble and they could not have sustained communication."

Motorola said it hadn't received notice of the lawsuit and didn’t comment on the allegations, according to the report.

"We want to reiterate our sympathy toward victims of the May 2013 tragedy and remind that an independent report after the fire listed numerous potential contributing factors," the company responded via email. "Since the fire, Motorola Solutions has worked closely with the Houston Fire Department to improve training and understanding of operational capabilities, as well as to provide system enhancements. We stand behind our equipment and support our Houston customer."

Radio troubles still linger at the department and Mayor Sylvester Turner is reviewing the matter.

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