The tragic fire that took the lives of four Houston firefighters last week hit close to home for Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.
Watt's father, John Watt, and uncle, Al Watt, both served as lieutenants in Waukesha Fire Department in Wisconsin. Al is retired while John is still active. Both worked in the Waukesha Fire Department for approximately 30 years.
Houston Fire Department Captain Matthew Renaud, Engineer-Operator Robert Bebee and firefighters Robert Garner and Anne Sullivan were killed in a motel fire last Friday. Watt and his teammates, coaches and the entire Texans organization attended their public memorial service on Wednesday morning at Reliant Stadium. The ceremony drew firefighters from as far away as California, New York, Canada and Mexico.
"It was tough," Watt said. "I could kind of almost picture that being my family, and that was very difficult to think about. I've grown up in fire stations my whole life, and to know the type of tragedy and the type of hurt that these families and those men are feeling, it was heartbreaking. But at the same time, to see the support from the Texans, from the mayor (Annise Parker), the governor (Rick Perry), the community, all the firefighters and EMTs and police officers that were there, that was heartwarming. It was heartbreak and heartwarming at the exact same time.
"For me, those people, those are true heroes. A lot of people look at athletes as role models. A lot of people look up to athletes, and we get a lot more press and media attention than any firefighter or any policeman, but those are the true heroes. Those are the people who every single day put their lives on the line with no fame, with no fortune, and they deserve that attention, they deserve that credit. I play a game, man. I go out there every day and I play a game. I have a blast. Those people go into burning buildings. Those people go save lives. They deserve the credit; they're true heroes."
Watt, who made surprise visits to Houston fire stations and a police station on Christmas last year, got choked up as he reflected more about the tragedy.
"That was one of those things where immediately, (I) think about my dad, my uncle," Watt said. "It's so humbling just to think about: Life can be taken from you in a second. Those men and woman, they went to work that day just like any other day, and it just… that day turned out to be a little different. And it makes me think. I mean, my dad goes to work. Every time he goes into work it could be, you never know. I don't think it's ever truly registered with me, the meaning behind that, because every day he goes in, he's come back. And for those four people, they went in, and that day, they didn't come back."