San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood says firefighters entered the strip mall Thursday evening because there were still people inside.
The other two firefighters were transported to a local hospital, but their conditions were not released. One was critically injured and the other was reportedly in serious condition.
Before the fire, Matthew Christian Coronado, 25, massage therapy instructor at Milan Institute, said smoke began billowing in the front of the business, which is several stores away from where the fire started.
"It was a very rough decision to leave a firefighter behind", an emotional Hood told reporters who gathered at the scene northwest of downtown. Deem had been with the department for six years.
The firefighters of Ladder 35 went full force into the four-alarm fire that took over the Ingram Park shopping center late Thursday.
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More than 60 fire units responded to the blaze, which quickly damaged multiple units within the shopping center.
"That's not what we do but we had the risk of losing an additional 15 to 20 firefighters if we did not go on the defensive", Hood said.
About 100 firefighters saluted the ambulance that carried Deem to the Bexar County Medical Examiner's office early Friday morning.
Fighting back tears, the chief asked San Antonio to lift up the SAFD community.
We humbly ask for your prayers for his family at this. "But we're going to continue to do the good job that we always do", Hood said.