Sister says firefighter had ‘Kool-Aid grin’ when accepted at HFD


by staff

Posted on June 5, 2013 at 4:56 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 5 at 5:31 PM

HOUSTON—Nicole Garner, sister of fallen firefighter Robert Garner, spoke of her brother’s determination to become a member of the Houston Fire Department. It was all he ever dreamed about. And he kept trying until his dream came true.

“Not long after he graduated high school, he decided he wanted to be a fireman. As he began pursuing his dream, he looked into the Houston Fire Department but they weren’t hiring at the time. So since that opportunity wasn’t available to him, he decided he would join the Air Force and fight fires that way. Little did he know, that wasn’t going to work out too well, either. You see, in order to pass your physical, you have to pass your eye exam. One small problem, he was partially color-blind,” she said.

So Robert tried to “trick” his way into the academy. He asked a young man who was taking the eye test before him to yell out the answers and he would memorize them. There was just one problem, that man was color-blind as well. They both failed.

“Although he wasn’t able to fight fires, he continued to proudly serve his country for the next six years and complete two voluntary tours of duty in Iraq,” his sister beamed.

During his last six months in the service, Robert decided he was going to try again to pursue his dream to fight with the Houston Fire Department. This time he received a letter of acceptance into the Houston Fire Academy. It’s a phone call she’ll never forget. She was running late to class and told him he only had two minutes to tell her what he wanted and all he said was “I got in.”

She did not have to ask, she knew what he was speaking of by the way he was choked up.

“He was so proud of that letter. I could just picture the big Kool-Aid grin he had across his face. He was so excited that he was finally going to be able to realize his dream.”

The determined man got busy after that.

“In all of my life, I’ve never seen my brother crack open a book to study for anything, but for the fire academy, he was going to read every word twice,” she said.

His goal was to graduate at the top of his class in order to have his picks at which station he would serve. He graduated second in his class and he landed at Station 68, his top choice.

“The fire department was an extension of his family; he looked forward to every shift he worked. He often spoke of the camaraderie that he felt was like his own little fraternity and the time he spent at Station 68, he did a lot of growing up. The men and women of the entire Houston Fire Department have helped to shape him into the man he became,” she said.

Two weeks ago, the brother and sister were having lunch and Robert looked at Nicole and said, “I finally get it. This is what I am supposed to do with my life. I know for sure that I am going to do this until I can’t or until the day I die.”

Nicole Garner says her brother died living his dream and those that knew him, knew that he wouldn’t have it any other way.