Houston firefighters stretched thin as businesses, patrons disregard Gov. Abbott's COVID-19 orders

Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena joins other local leaders, saying he's frustrated with businesses and patrons not complying with Texas Governor Greg Abbott's COVID-19 guidelines.

Gov. Abbott ordered bars and clubs to close last Friday due to surging COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the state.

MORE: Gov. Abbott orders Texas bars to close, restaurants to scale back to 50% capacity

But videos on social media show businesses like Spire Houston Nightclub and Aura Houston disregarding the order, with Aura apparently throwing a last hurrah Sunday night to celebrate its grand closing.

"We should be working on the tail end of combating this virus here as a community, but it seems like we’re taking a few steps back as a community instead of moving forward," Pena said. 

In the fourth month battling the pandemic, Pena says HFD responds to an average of 1,100 calls, which is a 30% increase. Meanwhile, 25% of his firefighters are in quarantine due to possible exposure to someone infected with COVID-19.

THE LATEST: Coronavirus COVID-19 cases, deaths, recoveries in greater Houston area

Pena said many firefighters are exhausted and overworked -- a potentially dangerous combination. 
"As of today, we have 247 firefighters that are in quarantine. Over 109 firefighters that have tested positive for coronavirus, 55 have since returned to work. As a community, if we don’t do our thing to stem the progression of this virus, it’s going to get to a point where we will not have enough firefighters to staff all the apparatus that this community expects. That’s not fear-mongering, that’s a fact," Pena said. 

Pena said a majority of the calls for service are for overcrowded businesses and people experiencing respiratory issues, or difficulty breathing.


"It makes no sense for you to be spotlighted and highlighted on local and national news and on social media in the midst of a healthcare crisis," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a news conference Monday. This is real, people are dying. It just doesn’t make sense and quite frankly, I have lost patience."

MORE: Three Houston businesses placed on Mayor Turner's "wall of shame" for not following COVID-19 guidelines

As a result, Turner added three businesses to the “Wall of Shame” on the city’s website. Spire Nightclub, Prospect Park and ironically, a bar called Pour Behavior, were the first businesses added to the list. Prospect Park also had its alcohol permit suspended by the TABC for 30 days.

Chief Pena says he's now urging people to stay away from crowds and wear a mask in public, especially heading into this upcoming Fourth of July holiday weekend.