Tears and speechless moments overwhelmed Eddie Cruz on Tuesday as he thought of his lifelong pal: the Kingwood firefighter Jerry Pacheco who died this week after battling the novel coronavirus.
Pacheco, 50, grew up in north Houston and Cruz in south. But the two met as kids through church and went to school together. Their friendship prevailed, even when the duo vied for the same woman’s affection or when the U.S. Navy dispatched Pacheco to far-off ports. Even then, Pacheco peppered Cruz with post cards and letters.
Pacheco was bigger than life, he said, and most of all, Cruz said they were best friends.
“We were supposed to make it through our careers, retire together,” said Cruz, a Houston firefighter at Station 59.
The death of Pacheco on Monday from complications from the global contagion changed that.
Pacheco, of Station 101, is the second Houston Fire Department firefighter to die after contracting the virus, which has infected more than 215 firefighters like him. Last month, Captain Leroy Lucio died at a San Antonio hospital after he and two of his Station 103 colleagues in Kingwood tested positive. Both recovered.
Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena on Monday said the virus was hitting their department hard but no other firefighters were in the hospital. As of Monday, about 130 more have been quarantined, he said.
Cruz said he knows “too many” of them.
“I don’t think any of us had expected us to experience life the way we’re living it now,” Cruz continued.
Pacheco tested positive in July, Cruz said, describing the ups and downs of his friend’s diagnosis. After posting a photo of himself in a hospital to Facebook, Pacheco assured Cruz that he was on the mend and would soon be discharged.
“I had asked him, ‘What are the doctors saying?’ This was his answer: ‘They’re saying the famous Jerry needs to be out in the world so they’re going to let me out soon,’” Cruz said, citing a July 26 text message. “He had that kind of character.”
The calls ceased when Pacheco was connected to a BiPap machine to push air into his lungs. Then the text messages stopped.
Pacheco was undergoing intubation, he continued.
“When you grow up with someone and they’re so full of life, you just expect that everything is going to be OK,” Cruz said.
Pachecho died around 6 a.m. Monday at a hospital and his passing took Cruz by surprise. Cruz said he has wanted to call Pachecho’s son, Justin, also a Houston firefighter, to express his condolences but he could not yet bring himself to do so.
“I just don’t know the words will come out right now,” Cruz said.
Pacheco was his sounding board. The two often started and ended their shifts with a phone call to reflect on work and family. A recent call focused on how both men could be a better father to their children.
“He lived his life for his two sons,” Cruz said.
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