Hundreds of firefighters solemnly walked through downtown from the Alamodome to Main Plaza Tuesday morning to honor fallen firefighter Greg Garza.
Visitors attending a conference at the Henry B. González Convention Center lined Market Street to quietly watch the procession, as did downtown workers and other passersby while the sound of traditional funeral bagpipes and drumbeats pierced the morning air.
Garza, a 17-year veteran of the San Antonio Fire Department, was killed last week when he fell from a fire truck while responding to call for service and was struck by a passing vehicle.
After the silent walk, a brief memorial service was held at Main Plaza, and Fire Chief Charles Hood spoke to members of the community who gathered alongside firefighters and Garza’s family, urging better awareness around emergency scenes.
“Give us the gift of attention,” he said, noting that two other first responders have been injured in the past week after being struck by vehicles. He added that Garza’s death should serve as a reminder to drivers to not use cellphones while driving and to slow down around public safety vehicles or avoid areas where first responders are working.
“We lay our lives on the line every single day,” Hood told reporters after the event. “We should not have to lay our lives on the line because we are hit [by distracted drivers].”
The driver in the incident that killed Garza was not at fault, Hood said, describing it as a “freak accident.”
The emotional impact of Garza’s death on his colleagues will resonate for a long time, said San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association President Chris Steele, noting that support services are readily available to fire department employees.
“A lot of our firefighters are struggling,” Steele told the firefighters during the ceremony. “You guys [have] got to look out for each other.”
To Garza’s wife and family, Steele said, “I want you to see your family. … You’ve got a big family now.”
Steele and others have described Garza as a “gentle giant,” a person of profound kindness and generosity.
“He would give you the shirt off his back,” Steele said. “He’s looking down [now] wanting to know what he can do for you.”
As the procession approached Main Plaza, Alecia Chapman stopped to watch until the very end. She was on her way to a doctor’s appointment when she heard the bagpipes.
“It breaks your heart to see someone that’s been at this type of job for years [die that] way,” Chapman said, adding that her parents worked in public safety departments.
Porter Loring Mortuary at 1101 McCullough Ave. will host two visitations on Wednesday – one from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. for SAFD personnel and another from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. for the public. A prayer vigil will follow at 7 p.m.
On Thursday morning, an SAFD procession will leave the Alamodome for a private funeral at Community Bible Church. The funeral and interment are not open to the general public.
“Greg Garza does not rest in peace. He will rest in power,” Hood told the crowd before a prayer.
After the ceremony on Tuesday, many on-duty firefighters
went immediately went back to their stations.
“You are never ready emotionally for something such as this,” Hood said. “This is so stinging because [the cause of Garza’s death was] not a piece of equipment, it’s not training, it’s not that we need money. It’s a simple accident. … But our men and women are protecting this city right now.”