Injured Bryan, Texas Firefighters Welcomed Home

June 01--A pair of arched fire truck ladders -- one from Bryan, the other from College Station -- dominated the view of Downtown Bryan near Fire Station No. 1 Friday afternoon as hundreds of residents, children and city officials lined the streets, waving flags and signs as they waited for the arrival of Fire Engine 5 and its two special passengers.

Ricky Mantey Jr., 30, and Mitch Moran, 21, returned home Friday, waving and smiling from the same fire truck they were riding in the night they responded to the deadly Knights of Columbus Hall fire more than three months ago.

Mantey and Moran have been in Galveston receiving treatment and recovering from injuries sustained in the Feb. 15 blaze, which also killed Lt. Eric Wallace and Lt. Greg Pickard.

Mantey was released from the Blocker Burn Unit in Galveston at the end of March, and Moran was released mid-April, but both stayed there to undergo additional therapy. This was their official return home.

"The first two days we were there [in Galveston], I didn't know if I'd ever talk to my husband again, much less see him ride in a fire truck again," said Kara Mantey, Ricky Mantey's wife.

Kara Mantey and their young daughter joined in the procession to escort the firefighters home that included emergency vehicles from Bryan, College Station, Brazos County, Somerville, St. Joseph's and Navasota.

The welcome home came on a day that brought a renewed reminder of the dangers faced by firefighters, as four members of the Houston Fire Department were killed and five others injured Friday battling a blaze in the southwest part of the city.

Bryan Fire Department Chief Randy McGregor said Ricky Mantey and Moran's homecoming "is the day we've been waiting for" and paused several times during his speech to maintain his composure, while tears flowed freely from audience members.

"These two men up here -- some of our finest, some of our bravest," McGregor said. "When they came on the job, they knew the job was dangerous, they knew the dangers they could be exposed to. The night of the fire, these men never gave up in their jobs. We could not be more proud of them and all their efforts to protect the citizens and Bryan and help their fellow firefighters."

Moran had visible burns on the side of his face and neck and had his arms and hands covered. He thanked the community for its prayers, visits and continued support for his family.

"I love this city, and I'm happy to be home," Moran said. "I just wanted to say thank you to everybody for everything."

Ricky Mantey was in an airplane splint that wrapped around his waist and kept his right arm elevated. His arms and fingers were covered. He thanked his fellow firefighters for their love and support, calling them his heroes throughout the process.

"If it wasn't for those guys," Ricky Mantey said, taking a long pause to control his emotions. "[You] can finish the sentence."

The celebration also honored the Wallace and Pickard families. Several in attendance sported shirts that read "All give some, some give all" with their names next to it. Mantey said he thinks about their families every day, saying Wallace and Pickard "are truly missed and are wonderful people."

Those in attendance included Bryan Mayor Jason Bienski, U.S. Rep. Bill Flores and State Rep. John Raney. Flores presented Ricky Mantey and Moran with challenge coins for honorable service and with flags that flew over the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 19, the day of the memorial for Wallace and Pickard. Raney presented Ricky Mantey and Moran with flags that flew over the Texas Capitol on Feb. 19.

Flores presented McGregor with a flag that was flown at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 19 in memory of Wallace and Pickard and all emergency responders who "made the ultimate sacrifice to the community and our nation."

Bryan firefighter Justin Orler was at Fire Station No. 1 on Friday and said he was excited for Ricky Mantey and Moran's return. He went to paramedics school with Ricky Mantey and relieved crews the morning after the Knights of Columbus Hall fire.

"In the beginning, it's more surreal; you just didn't really want to believe it, kind of," Orler said. "Throughout the process, as you go out there to see the guys and check on them through their progress, it becomes more real. It's tough to handle, but we serve a strong God."

Kara Mantey said witnessing the community come together for the homecoming was "the most amazing thing I've ever witnessed."

"It's been an awesome, awesome experience as far as support goes," Kara Mantey said. "I'm looking forward to our future. It's going to be a long road, but I'm confident that he's going to persevere and be back on top of things."

Ricky Mantey and Moran will return to Galveston once a week to continue receiving treatments, but Ricky Mantey said "we'll be back before you know it."

"We're going to be by their side as we have been and continue on with them until they make it through this path and they're completely healed and we can get them back on these fire trucks," McGregor said.

Copyright 2013 - The Eagle, Bryan, Texas

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