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Local first responders honored for their quick actions in water rescue

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Posted at 5:31 PM, Aug 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-31 18:31:30-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The Corpus Christi Fire Department spent the day honoring some local heroes.

It was part of their annual awards ceremony held at the FEMA dome at Del Mar College's Winward Campus.

Among those honored was Captain Jeffrey De La Garza and Captain Dana Lechner.

On the night of June 11, 2022, both jumped into action to rescue three people trapped in an SUV that went over the seawall and into the Corpus Christi Marina.

"I was the first fire unit on scene," recalled De La Garza. "Two PD officers were already in the water. They said the car was right under them. So, I jumped in and then swam onto the car and then we basically started diving down trying to see the layout of the vehicle, what kind of vehicle it was, where the doors were and gain access to pull the victims out."

De La Garza said the area where the car sunk had recently been dredged, so it was deeper than what they expected.

"Visibility was zero," said De La Garza. "There was some current because there was heavy wind. That caused the doors to keep getting shut on us. So, that was a fear that we were going to go inside the vehicle to do a search and have the doors close behind us. So, everyone in the water assisted. We had some people use their legs and hold the door open and then we alternated sides, diving down to do a sweep of the vehicle."

Captain Lechner said he still remembers that night like it was yesterday.

"When we got on scene, we got there right behind the engine," said Lechner. "I had a couple of my guys get some safety vests because we knew there was a car in the water. I jumped in the water behind De La Garza to search the car."

Lechner is a 32 year veteran of the Corpus Christi Fire Department. De La Garza has served 15 and a half years with the department.

Both were humbled by Wednesday's recognition and told KRIS 6 News they just saw it as part of the job.

"Being in the fire department, you never know what type of call you're going to get," said De La Garza. "But when people call us, you're expected to do the job, any job, we're kind of the last resort."

Both were presented with The Medal of Valor.

The award is considered one of greatest honors bestowed upon a person.

It's meant to recognize someone who voluntarily risked their life in saving, or attempting to save another person, or who sacrificed themselves for the benefit of others.

Other local heroes were also honored on Wednesday.

Some were presented with a Life-Saving Award, Certificate of Commendations, Meritorious Unit Commendations and the Citizens Certificate of Merit.

Corpus Christi Mayor Paulette Guajardo, Fire Chief Robert Rocha and State Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa were among those who attended Wednesday's ceremony.