This week, hundreds of mourners lined highway overpasses and packed a far North Side church in San Antonio to honor fallen firefighter Gregory Paul Garza.

The 49-year-old was laid to rest Thursday.

Marine, firefighter dies after being hit by van while battling hotel fire

Marine, firefighter dies after being hit by van while battling hotel fire

The 17-year veteran died in the line of duty October 15.  It happened after he was hit by a commercial van outside a Comfort Suites while he and other firefighters were at the east side motel for a call.

Mourners stood along the processional route, which stretched for miles along U.S. 281.  It began downtown and ended at Community Bible Church, where funeral services were held.

Fire trucks were covered in black fabrics and wreaths.  They lead the procession as it drove slowly past with Garza, his casket draped in an American flag, in the lead truck.

Stephen Hedrick spoke to the local media, saying he took the day off to honor Garza.  The construction worker said he wanted to thank all emergency officials who daily put their lives at risk for the communities they serve, and stood silently as the truck carrying Garza drove past.

“He passed away doing what he loved doing,” Hedrick said. “He didn’t know me, but he would’ve rescued me.”

According to Hedrick, he wasn’t able to participate in the ceremonies honoring Scott Deem.  That was a firefighter who died while on duty at a fire in 2017.  It’s what he says motivated him to make sure he attended Garza’s.

“The least I can do is show some respect on his last day,” he said.

The funeral was a Catholic mass held at Community Bible Church, the city’s largest Protestant church.

That’s where speakers talked about Garza.  They described him as soft-spoken, gentle and kind… a man who fed stray kittens that wandered around the station and gave giant bear hugs to friends and family.

Friends said he found his calling as a firefighter and loved his family unconditionally.

One of the speakers was Joe Garza, a police officer with San Antonio Independent School District.  He talked about growing up and looking up to his eldest brother.

“Greg was our guide. He was the one who found the positive in everything,” he said. “He was a loyal and faithful comrade to his fellow firefighters. I thank God for giving me the honor of being his brother.”

When he was younger, Garza was a student at the then-Incarnate Word College.

That’s where he met his best friend, David Gibson, in 1994.

The duo traveled to San Francisco and Seattle together.  They were there when each met their future wives.

Gibson shared his pain for the loss of his friend.

“I wasn’t nearly the friend to Greg that he was to me,” Gibson said. “It’s impossible. He was too good, too decent, too honorable, too sweet, too kind. Greg had a firefighter’s heart long before he got in the department.”

SAFD Chief Charles Hood ended the speech with the poem “The Gentle Giant” by Phillip McKenzie.

“Look around you. We are standing in Greg Garza’s wake. We are standing in the depths of his love. He was a giant in life. His void is going to be irreplaceable,” Hood said during the services.

Garza’s fellow station partners weren’t the only ones looking out.

 

Firefighters from a number of stations were among those standing to watch from U.S. 281 overpasses along the route to the church.

Lieutenant Chase McDougald was one of them.  He brought together members of Station 17, each with black ribbons around their badges to symbolize the loss.

McDougald said his memories of Garza go back to his rookie days when even then he was known as “a gentle giant.”

“I just remember how eager he was to do his job. And very driven,” McDougald said. “He loved both his family and his firefighter family.”

According to fire officials, Garza graduated from Central Catholic High School in 1988 and earned a psychology degree from the University of the Incarnate Word in 1996.

He was also a Marine. He joined the San Antonio Fire Department in 2003.

Garza was a hazardous materials technician with Station 1, and was responding to an electrical fire on the morning of Oct. 15 at the Comfort Suites at 505 Live Oak St.

According to officials, he tripped or fell off the fire truck and was hit by a passing van.  He was rushed to Brooke Army Medical Center in critical condition, where he died surrounded by his wife, parents, two brothers and colleagues.

 

Did you know that Law Enforcement Today has a private new home for those who support emergency responders and veterans?  It’s called LET Unity, and it’s where we share the untold stories of those patriotic Americans.  Every penny gets reinvested into giving these heroes a voice.  Check it out today.