THROUGH HELL OR HIGH WATER


Bravery and community service runs deep for Houston firefighter Tyler Gardner.

Since Hurricane Harvey and its historic wrath moved into the Houston area on Aug. 26, the 2004 Wellington High School graduate has regularly worked 48-hour shifts, taken an occasional three-hour nap, and played a large role in saving countless lives.

After serving in the Marine Corps for 10 years following his time at WHS, including three tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, dire situations are nothing new for Gardner. However, he said what he’s witnessed in Houston is like nothing he’s ever seen.

“We knew we had to stop being complacent and get our game faces on as soon as the rain started that Saturday,” he said. “I began working at 4 p.m. the day before and didn’t stop until the following Wednesday at 6 a.m. Sometimes there’s a few minutes to get a little rest, but the calls just kept coming.”

Gardner has been a firefighter and EMT in Houston for the past three years and was named 2016 firefighter of the year. He lives 30 miles north in Spring, Texas, with his wife and two children.

“I’ll be honest, I was more scared here than I ever was in Afghanistan,” he said. “Just how high the water was and the stuff we had to do to get the people out of the houses was crazy. People don’t know how to drive in high water and they were often coming at us as fast as they could go. We got pushed around a lot in our rescue vehicle.”

Two Army trucks were purchased by Gardner’s department and refurbished for rescue purposes. He told the story of saving a family of eight that was stuck inside the second story of their house with a front door that stuck out just six inches above the water.

He swam to the entrance and managed to pry it open.

“The water was six feet deep and coming in through our vehicle’s doors,” he said. “Miraculously, the dad of the family we were trying to get to showed up in his own boat. We used it to get them out and then went back and forth to get more people. I struggled a bit with the door but my mama didn’t raise a wimp.”

His father, George “Butch” Gardner, was a Wellington firefighter for 33 years. Kenny Gardner, Tyler’s older brother, is a firefighter and EMT in Ashland. Matriarch Debora Gardner has been a nurse for 25 years and practices home health care.

She said the feeling of speaking with Tyler by phone through the disaster is difficult to put into words.

“It’s been very sporadic when we’ve been able to talk,” she said. “He sent me a picture after he helped with an evacuation and I just couldn’t believe it. It’s pretty traumatic. I worried about him going off to war three times. Now watching all of this on the news makes me think of Buz Anderson drowning and it scares me to death. I’m so glad every time to hear his voice.”

Allan “Buz” Anderson, a member of Wellington’s fire and dive rescue teams, died June 22, 2006, while saving a teenage couple trapped in a flash flood on Pitts Road.

The Gardner family still lives in the house on Grand Avenue that Tyler grew up in.

Harvey has dumped an estimated nine trillion tons of water across Southeast Texas with the death toll reaching 60 as of Tuesday.

Many pockets of land accumulated more than 50 inches of rain, which is close to the 60-inch mark that’s often classified as a “million-year event.”

“I grew up at the fire station and always knew it’s what I wanted to do,” said Tyler. “Through being in the Marines too, I’ve grown to love helping people and want to help my community any way I can.”

Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.

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Houston firefighter and former Wellington resident Tyler Gardner rode this rescue vehicle through flood waters resulting from Hurricane Harvey.
http://www.thewellingtonenterprise.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2017/09/web1_IMG_4556.jpgHouston firefighter and former Wellington resident Tyler Gardner rode this rescue vehicle through flood waters resulting from Hurricane Harvey.

Gardner’s crew makes its way through a neighborhood under six feet of flood water.
http://www.thewellingtonenterprise.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2017/09/web1_IMG_4527.jpgGardner’s crew makes its way through a neighborhood under six feet of flood water.

Gardner with his wife, Sarah, and children Joseph and Makaylah.
http://www.thewellingtonenterprise.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2017/09/web1_family.jpgGardner with his wife, Sarah, and children Joseph and Makaylah.

Hurricane Harvey has dumped an estimated nine trillion tons of water on southeast Texas.
http://www.thewellingtonenterprise.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2017/09/web1_IMG_4552.jpgHurricane Harvey has dumped an estimated nine trillion tons of water on southeast Texas.

Gardner as a child wearing his father’s firefighter uniform.
http://www.thewellingtonenterprise.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2017/09/web1_kid.jpgGardner as a child wearing his father’s firefighter uniform.
Houston firefighter learned early lessons in Wellington

By Jonathan Delozier

jdelozier@aimmediamidwest.com

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