Houston Fire Chief refutes claims that communication with Astroworld Festival first responders was inadequate

Houston Fire Chief: Officer may have been injected with drugs at deadly Astroworld concert

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena discussed the latest on the investigation into the deadly stampede on ‘America’s Newsroom.’

Questions have emerged about how much communication first responders with the Houston Fire Department were given on the day of the deadly Astroworld Festival tragedy. 

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena previously stated on “America’s Newsroom” Tuesday that, although the department was not part of the comprehensive safety plan which included police and medical responders inside the venue, he made the decision to pre-deploy department resources outside the event to be on standby. 

While they did not have direct communication with the concert’s organizers like the Houston Police Department did, firefighters were of course part of the plan being spearheaded by ParaDocs, the private company that organized the responders, should anything have happened.

However, in an interview with Fox News, Patrick M. “Marty” Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association noted that the communication offered relied heavily on cell phones, which are often inadequate in crowds the size of Astroworld’s.

General view of atmosphere during the third annual Astroworld Festival at NRG Park on November 5, 2021 in Houston, Texas. 
(Omar Vega/FilmMagic)

“What I’m told from my guys is that they were given a list of cell phone numbers and what I can tell you is, in emergency situations, communications matter, seconds matter, and the fact that cell phones with an event with 50,000 people is typically, you know, unreliable,” he said. “That’s not our method of communication and emergency response. We use radios to directly communicate the needs, especially if an incident starts to go awry and tragedy starts to happen. And that’s why communication is key, and our Houston firefighters that were in a mobile unit on the outside did not have a radio from the third party medical company that was hired.”

However, Pena countered those claims in a statement to Fox News in which he noted that Lancton’s statements do not reflect the official position of the Houston Fire Department. He notes that, although cell phones were the only available outreach to ParaDocs directly, there were indeed several lines of communication between firefighters and those inside the venue. For example, the Houston Police Department was in direct radio communication with HFD as well as the concert organizers and ParaDocs. 

The Houston Fire Chief said that first responders didn’t have a communication issue at the Astroworld Festival. 
(Photo by Erika Goldring/WireImage via Getty Images)

“Houston Fire was in radio communication with Harris County Emergency Corp (HCEC). This is the agency in direct contact with ParaDocs, the private company providing medical service to the venue,” Pena added. “HCEC provided the ambulance transport service under the umbrella of ParaDocs. Houston Fire had cell phone contact for ParaDocs and would be able to reach ParaDocs via radio contact through HCEC.”

Regardless of any communication issues, Pena previously noted that the decision to pre-deploy resources to the venue came in handy once the mass casualty incident was declared. The Houston Fire Department was more easily able to rapidly deploy the necessary resources to assist first responders dealing with injuries and deaths. 

While Pena is pleased with the coordination between his department and other emergency teams on the ground that day, he previously laid the blame for the tragedy on rapper Travis Scott, who he believes should have paused the show once the presence of ambulances in the crowd made it apparent that the situation was dire. 

A visitor writes a note at a memorial outside of the canceled Astroworld festival at NRG Park on November 7, 2021 in Houston, Texas. According to authorities, eight people died and 17 people were transported to local hospitals after what was described as a crowd surge at the Astroworld festival, a music festival started by Houston-native rapper and musician Travis Scott in 2018. 
(Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images)

“The one person who can really call for and get a tactical pause when something goes wrong is that performer. They have that bully pulpit and they have a responsibility,” he told The New York Times Sunday. “If somebody would have said, ‘Hey, shut this thing down and turn on the lights until this thing gets corrected’ — and that coming from the person with the mic — I think could have been very helpful.”

In statements since the Astroworld 2021 tragedy, Scott has noted that he was completely unaware of the severity of the situation from his vantage point on stage.

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