Beaumont’s most distinguished firefighters aren’t waiting around for the alarm to sound.
Whether on or off duty, they are always on call.
Just ask firefighter Chris Harvey, who was honored Wednesday, Nov. 13, at the Fire Museum of Texas for saving a man from drowning after a harrowing collision near Bridge City.
Harvey was just one firefighter honored at Wednesday’s ceremony, which highlighted the many years of service from all of Beaumont’s firefighters.
At least two were honored for more than 40 years of service to the department.
Fire Chief Anne Huff was on hand to give awards and promotions to Beaumont’s firefighters, personally presenting Harvey with a medal of bravery. Beaumont Mayor Becky Ames pinned the medal to Harvey’s uniform.
“That’s what’s best about firefighters. You’re never off duty. You’re always on,” Chief Huff said. “If someone needs assistance, that’s what we’re here for. Chris exemplifies what is best in a firefighter. He risked himself, not getting paid for it, stopped and gave assistance and saved somebody from potential drowning inside a car.”
After almost 37 years in the Beaumont Fire Department, Capt. Brad Pennison was also sure to commend Harvey and other firefighters who have saved countless lives over the years.
“Chris is a perfect example of what we talked about,” Pennison said. “In Chris’ words, it was his training and his instincts as a firefighter that prepared him for that day. When he saw that accident, he just went after it because that’s what he’s trained to do. So it’s important to recognize that.”
It all started May 6 at about 2 p.m. on Highway 87 near Bridge City.
That’s when Harvey said his day off turned potentially deadly as he drove to Bridge City.
“I was traveling from Orange toward Bridge City and about 200 yards in front of me, there was a stalled vehicle in the right-hand lane,” Harvey explained. “I guess he didn’t realize it was stopped. I was in the left hand lane and he swerved in front of me to avoid the vehicle and almost immediately swerved back over to the right hand lane and started sliding sideways in front of me. As I’m slowing down, he hit a curb and went end over end into the canal.”
Having almost been involved in the accident, adrenaline pumping, an unflinching Harvey brought his vehicle to a stop and quickly jumped into the murky water as a still conscious Dalton Ivy of Bridge City pleaded for his life.
“I just jumped in, swam onto the hood — you couldn’t even see the hood,” Harvey said. “All you could see was a little bit of the roof. I was able to open the door and get him out.”
It took a moment for both men to realize how close they had come to serious injury, Harvey said.
“He was freaking out because he thought his life was over, I guess. We got him out and he was able to calm down and obviously then he was very thankful,” Harvey said. “I didn’t even realize what all had happened until I got out of the water and was standing on the side of the highway. Then it hit me exactly what had happened.”
Harvey said he didn’t expect to be honored for his bravery and was just doing what any off-duty firefighter would do if they were in the same position. He said it wasn’t bravery or courage that brought him to plunge into the water after a drowning Ivy: it was something else he’s honed over eight years as a firefighter.
“To be honest with you, man, it’s just instinct. It gets in your blood. It’s there and you react. I can’t see myself doing anything else,” Harvey said.