San Antonio firefighter Greg Garza was laid to rest Thursday after more than 1,800 firefighters, friends, and family members celebrated his life and service during a funeral mass at Community Bible Church.
A traditional bell was rung after the mass to signify that Garza’s service was over. A final alarm was transmitted over fire department radios.
“May he rest in eternal power,” the message concluded.
Garza, 49, worked at Fire Station No. 1 on the city’s East Side where he was part of the Platform 3 crew. The 17-year veteran was responding to a call on Tuesday, Oct. 15 when he fell from a fire truck, onto the street and was struck by a passing vehicle. His death prompted Fire Chief Charles Hood to call for greater caution from the public while driving.
David Gibson, SAFD engineer and close friend of Garza, related several stories to the crowd inside the church about the man that many called a “gentle giant.”
“You guys are a mess, and this speech is going to be a mess, and Greg would forgive us all,” Gibson said.
They met in college at the University of the Incarnate Word, he said. They were both “odd and quirky” and became fast friends.
“He went through this phase where he wanted his friends to think he’s a superhero,” he said. “At the height of the night, Greg would just be gone.”
This was before the age of cellphones, Gibson noted, and Greg was always secretive about his whereabouts.
One night Gibson asked him in jest if he was “out fighting crime or something.”
“His eyes lit up,” Gibson recalled, and Garza said: “Yeah, I could be a superhero.”
It was Garza’s playful attitude and kindness that led to the design of the church’s program that featured cartoon Transformers, toy trucks, and kittens. He used to feed stray kittens at the station, Gibson said.
“He probably had more toys than Toys’R’Us,” Fr. Jimmy Drennan of St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church said during his sermon.
Gibson said Garza was the kind of guy that would literally give you the shirt off his back, then added, “You couldn’t wear it because it was like size 3L, but he’d give it to you.
“Greg was bigger than life, but Greg will live on in the hearts of all of us. I promise you.”
Garza’s standard greeting was a big bear hug, his brother Joe Garza said, it would “literally take your breath away” because he was “as big and as strong as an ox. … He barely squeezed through doors and yet he was as warm and loving and gentle as anyone could be.
“He had that general love for people … this is what made him such a great firefighter.”
Hood assured Garza’s family that they had the full support of the department and their families as they navigate their new lives without him then he asked the hundreds of uniformed and civilian members to stand.
“We are here to stand in the gap to the very best of our abilities as you and your family navigate this unimaginable storm,” Hood said. “We’re here to work with you, to support you, to be a constant reminder that you are valued – that you are a member of our family for life.”
The church and larger community also extend that support, said Drennan.
“[Garza] chose to live a life where he would make himself a part of all of our lives,” said Drennan, who is a retired San Antonio Police Officer. “He belonged to all of us … on behalf of all of us. I want to thank you for sharing him with us.”
As Drennan described the moments when Garza will see his wife, Sonia, in heaven one day, he walked off the stage toward her and gently reached for her hand.
“… Never let anyone tell you that you’ve lost him,” he told her. “You know where he is. He’s with God.”
“Thank you,” Sonia Garza said through tears.
A private burial was held after the funeral services.
Garza’s death is the San Antonio Fire Department’s first on-duty death since May 18, 2017, when 31-year-old Scott Deem was killed battling a large fire at a strip mall on the Northwest side. Before Deem’s death, SAFD had not lost a firefighter in the line of duty in 20 years.
To benefit Garza’s widow, the fire department has set up a memorial account at Generations Federal Credit Union to which members of the public may donate.
“We give our lives to strangers,” said San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association President Chris Steele. “We can never repay firefighters fully for their sacrifices.”