Firefighters Mass honors first responders lost in line of duty

September 28, 2021

File photo by James Ramos/Herald

OUSTON — Firefighters now go beyond the duty of handling blazes, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic as they protect the lives of residents and their property.

On Sunday, Oct. 17, the Archdiocese will thank and pray for all firefighters from departments and volunteers at the annual Archdiocesan Firefighters Mass.

The 11 a.m. Mass, presided by Father Jeff Bame of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, and sponsored by the Saint Florian Society of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, will be held at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, located at 1111 St. Joseph Parkway, in downtown Houston.

“Many citizens do not realize that it is the Houston Fire Department that provides Emergency Medical Services within the City of Houston. When someone needs an ambulance, it’s our EMTs and paramedics who provide those services,” said District Chief Christopher Chavez, Mass organizer and Houston firefighter.

He added, “Even when taking all the precautions that we can, we are sometimes exposed and contract these types of deadly disease.”

“This is a dangerous, high-risk profession. Support and prayers from family, friends and the community let our firefighters know they are appreciated,” Chavez said.

A special tribute will be given to firefighters who have passed in the previous year during the Mass. The tribute will include a reading of the names of deceased firefighters, which will be accompanied by the ringing of bells.

This tribute includes Houston Fire Department arson investigator Lemuel “DJ” Bruce, fatally shot Oct. 16, 2020, by an arsonist who then killed himself. But the most lost last year were three firefighters taken by COVID-19 in the line of duty: Leroy Lucio on July 20, 2020, Gerado Pacheco on Aug. 3, 2020, and Tommy Searcy on Sept. 8, 2020. Plus, the disease has taken a fourth firefighter most recently on Sept. 3, 2021, with HFD Engineer Operator Tanner G. Reed, 39, passing away after being hospitalized with COVID-19.

In addition, Houston firefighter Kevin Leago, who passed from stage 4 neuroendocrine cancer on Dec. 12, 2019, will be remembered. Leago successfully fought the City of Houston over a workers compensation claim connecting the cancer to his work.

Fires regularly expose first responders to carcinogenic chemicals, including formaldehyde, benzene, arsenic and petroleum byproducts, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

At the time of Leago’s death, Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena was quoted, “Occupational cancer has proven to be the new epidemic we face. Far too many members of the fire service have been lost to this relentless illness.”

Fire trucks will line the street in front of the Co-Cathedral with crossed ladders hoisting a large U.S. flag.

The Archdiocesan Annual Firefighter Mass is open to active and retired firefighters, their families and the general public.