In what is now seen as an iconic image from a terrible American tragedy, he is seen carrying a critically-injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords from the scene of the Tucson shooting Jan. 8. Not much of Tom Schwartz’s face is visible, but there he is, doing his job.
The photograph appeared on the front page of the New York Times. It dramatically captured the scene that Saturday morning at the Safeway store. For former Hastings resident Schwartz, it placed him at the tragedy, doing what he has done for a living for 13 years.
Schwartz was born in Hastings, the son of Leonard (Lenny) and Mary Schwartz. His father was Hastings Junior High School principal for many years and his mother was a registered nurse. The family moved to Tucson in the early 1990s. The three sons, Tom, Steve and Mark, finished school in Arizona and stayed in the area.
Tom always wanted to be a firefighter. It was a life-long dream, and for the past 13 years, he has been living his dream with the Northwest Fire and Rescue, based in a Tucson suburb. He is an EMT(emergency medical technician), engineer and truck driver for the company.
His parents live about five miles from the Safeway store where the shooting occurred. It is minutes from their house, Lenny said.
“We’ve been to that Safeway store, easily several hundred times,” he said. “The area is that close to us.”
Lenny and Mary were not there that day and would not hear about the shooting until several hours later.
Tom Schwartz drove the second rescue truck that day for Northwest Fire and Rescue. When the first responders arrived at the scene and saw what they were dealing with, a triage unit was immediately set up. Immediate assistance was provided to Giffords.
Medical helicopters had been called for assistance and provided transportation for the injured. However, ambulances were used to transport the injured to the University of Arizona Hospital trauma center.
Giffords and Christina Taylor-Green, 9, the youngest of the shooting victims, were among those transported to the hospital. Tom Schwartz was one of the firefighters seen carrying the gurney, which carried Giffords.
By then, every part of the media was there to cover and report. Thousands of photographs were taken and Tom Schwartz did not realize until later that he was in one of them. He saw it on CNN.
“There was a lot of heroism that day,” said Lenny Schwartz, putting his son in the group. “It’s the people who go about their jobs every day and help others.”
He indicated Tom was one of the first responders invited to the memorial service the following Wednesday at the University of Arizona. He sat in the front row, close to other responders. President Obama attended and spoke to thousands in person and millions of Americans watched on television.
“When they mentioned the responders and others who had had reacted so quickly, we all cheered,” said Lenny Schwartz. “That was nice.”
Tom Schwartz was also one of the firefighters who helped to raise the flag at Christina’s funeral. The flag has been flown at Ground Zero in New York and was brought to Tucson especially for her service. Christina was born Sept. 11, 2001.
While so obviously proud of their sons, the Schwartzes were very saddened by the day’s events. They know the Green family and they attend the same church in Tucson. They attended Christina’s funeral service.
Almost three weeks after the shooting, the images of that day remain clear and fresh. For the Schwartzes, the day’s images are mixed with sadness and hope and pride in one of their children.