First responders thanked for service to Liberty County

Two generations of Koens are public servants for Liberty County. Pictured left to right are Liberty County Sheriff's Deputy Tommy Koen, U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, State Trooper William Koen and Liberty County EMS Director Mike Koen. Mike and Tommy are first cousins while Mike is William's father. They are pictured at the First Responders Appreciation Day on Sept. 18 in Cleveland.

A little more than a year ago, Liberty County, like all of Southeast Texas, was still digging out from Hurricane Harvey. The storm is tied with Hurricane Katrina as the costliest hurricane on record with $125 billion in damages.

Following Harvey, first responders serving Liberty County, who already are accustomed to long hours, including weekends and holidays, launched into action, rescuing people stranded in their flooded homes by high-profile vehicles and boats.

At a First Responders Appreciation Luncheon on Tuesday, Sept. 18, in Cleveland, men and women representing dozens of agencies were celebrated for their service to Liberty County. The luncheon was hosted by Texas Elite Hospice, Pace-Stancil Funeral Home, Bluebonnet News, Cleveland Lions Club, The Sanctuary of Cleveland and the Cleveland Senior Citizens Center. Guests were treated to fellowship and a meal of barbecue brisket, chicken and sausage, potato salad, beans, bread pudding and cookies.

After the meal was served, U.S. Rep. Brian Babin (Texas’ Congressional District 36) presented certificates of appreciation to each of the agencies in attendance. Babin reminded guests that September is the time of year that First Responders Appreciation Month is held annually in the United States.

“You never know when you will need a first responder. You guys and gals represent the brave first responders through this great county of Liberty and the state of Texas,” he said. “You are the everyday heroes and you don’t always get the recognition you deserve.”

The anniversary of Harvey was not lost on Babin, who said, “A year ago this week, we were in the middle of a real emergency. All nine of the counties in my district were federally-declared disasters. We had just come off 52 inches of rain in some parts of the district. I’ve even heard reports that it might have been as much as 60 inches. That’s one storm.”

In the days following the storm, story after story of heroism and courage were revealed, Babin said.

“Thousands of homes swallowed up, upending lives of families and individuals, and entire communities. The impact was absolutely overwhelming, but in the middle of this devastation we witnessed incredible stories and instances of bravery, courage, heroism, compassion and resiliency of neighbors,” he said.

Churches, even those impacted by flood waters, opened their doors and served as shelters for the displaced residents. Churches became gathering sites for community meals, food and clothing distribution centers, and resource centers for those needing medical treatment or information.

“And then there were the first responders. They were there saving people in their boats, getting people to shelters and to higher ground, making sure they were safe after they were rescued,” Babin said. “Many of the people doing this are right here in this room. You folks worked tirelessly.”

According to Babin, times of crises remind people of the need for first responders. He pointed out to the luncheon guests that 400 of the 3,000 people killed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks were first responders who were trying to save others.

“When things are going well, we tend to take you for granted. We need to remember that you all put it on the line every single day, willing to sacrifice it all,” Babin said. “For your hard work and your dedicated service, we are forever indebted. On behalf of the 36th U.S. Congressional District, roughly 700,000 people, thank you, thank you, thank you. We are here to honor you today. God bless you.”

By Vanesa Brashier,

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Before creating Bluebonnet News in 2018, Vanesa Brashier was a community editor for the Houston Chronicle/Houston Community Newspapers. During part of her 12 years at the newspapers, she was assigned as the digital editor and managing editor for the Humble Observer, Kingwood Observer, East Montgomery County Observer and the Lake Houston Observer, and the editor of the Dayton News, Cleveland Advocate and Eastex Advocate. Over the years, she has earned more than two dozen writing awards, including Journalist of the Year.

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