Two Heroes of Harvey: The Ultimate Sacrifice

Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas coast on August 25, 2017, and our lives have never been the same.

More than 50 inches of rain. Over 200,000 homes impacted. Sixty thousand people rescued from flood waters. And sadly 88 people across the affected area in Texas lost their lives.

Two of those lives belonged to City of Houston employees: Police Sergeant Steve Perez and Public Works employee Joseph Dowell.

Sgt. Perez and Mr. Dowell were among the hundreds of city workers who were out in the middle of storm and after — rescuing Houstonians, getting them to shelter, providing dry clothes and a meal, picking up debris. Police officers, firefighters, public works and solid waste employees and more. All this while their own homes flooded, their families were in distress, they were exhausted and working beyond overtime.

Two made the ultimate sacrifice, both of them drowning fighting flood waters to come to work for the residents of Houston.

Sgt. Perez was a 34-year veteran of HPD. He left home at 4 a.m. to go to work. He drove for two hours trying to find a way to get to his duty station in downtown Houston. He was unable to get there, so, rather than just go home, Sgt. Perez reported that he would try to get to the Kingwood station. He never made it.

Sometimes you find a way to make it happen or you die in trying. Sgt. Perez lost his life because he tried to make it happen, he tried to get to his post.

Police Chief Art Acevedo called Perez “a sweet, gentle public servant.”

Mr. Dowell had a tough life but he had turned it around, overcoming a lifetime of personal obstacles, including the loss of his wife and son and cycles of abuse, addiction and incarceration. He had just graduated from the city’s Community Re-Entry Network program in May 2017 and had been hired as a temporary employee in the Public Works and Engineering Department.

Mr. Dowell, too, was trying to get to work but was stopped by flood waters. His supervisor said he would send a truck to pick him but Mr. Dowell said, no, he would walk in to work. He was not heard from again.

Joseph Dowell was a true testament of resiliency.

As we near the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, I want to say thank you to all city employees. I value each and every one of you. Your contributions, your hard work and sacrifices are valued and appreciated. We can hope that Houston will never see a storm like Harvey ever again, but with our city employees’ help, we can make Houston safer, stronger, resilient and prepared for the next weather emergency.

Because one thing that we learned from Harvey is that it takes all of us working together to move us forward.