As he walked outside during the winter storm that hit Fort Worth last week, Adam Gerred couldn’t help but sense that same eerie feeling. The chill in the air, even the smell, reminded him of Feb. 11, 2021 — a day no one in his family can forget. 

Tiffany Gerred, Adam’s younger sister, died in the 133-car pileup on the southbound express lane of Interstate 35, not far from downtown Fort Worth. 

The 34-year-old mother was on her way to work as a Tarrant County court clerk when a string of 18-wheelers, trucks and cars lost control on the icy road, crashing into each other in rapid succession. She was one of six people who lost their lives that morning. 

“It was carnage and mayhem,” Adam Gerred said. “My brother and I were actually out there. We went to the freeway and stood on it and saw firsthand our first responders moving quickly and getting people to safety. It was heartbreaking.”

What you can do for Fort Worth First Responders Day

Since FW 2.11 is not a nonprofit , the group is not accepting financial contributions. Here’s how you can help.

  • Sign up using FW 2.11’s online form. You can choose which type of first responder group you would like to support, if you would like to donate somewhere near you or if you can give wherever is needed. The group is receiving many requests, so sign up as soon as you can.
  • Collect donations for your “Hero Pack,” which should include handwritten thank-you notes and items from FW 2.11’s shopping lists.
  • On Feb. 11, deliver your “Hero Pack” to your assigned site, which could include a firehouse or police station.

The tight-knit family has dreaded the first anniversary of her death, said Jeff Gerred, Tiffany’s eldest brother. Friends and family wanted to channel their grief and energy into an event that would honor Tiffany’s dedication to helping others. 

“She made a huge difference for those people who were around her, from her friendship and being there when people were down,” Adam Gerred said. “That’s part of why we want to continue to help people out, because she had such a caring soul.” 

Months of brainstorming and preparation have resulted in Fort Worth First Responders Day, which the family also calls FW 2.11. The coordinated effort will send businesses, church groups and families to firehouses and police stations across the city on Friday. 

Each volunteer group will collect a “Hero Pack” full of handwritten notes, grab-and-go snacks, office supplies and other practical items often requested by first responders. On the anniversary, volunteers will deliver donation boxes to firefighters, dispatchers and emergency medical technicians all over Fort Worth, Jeff Gerred said. 

“The idea of getting people together for an event wasn’t practical, because obviously these people are working different shifts, and it would limit who could come to this,” he said. “We’ve got so much response from first responders that we know personally, people messaging to say: ‘Thank you so much for doing this. We’re just feeling the love, and we don’t always have that. It keeps us motivated.’” 

First responder: ‘It’s always in the back of my head’

James Ward, who has worked for MedStar911 in Fort Worth for the past six years, was one of the first medical professionals to arrive on scene to help victims on Feb. 11. Ward and his partner were already mentally preparing for a busy day because of the poor weather conditions. 

They were responding to a wreck near the site of the pileup when Ward saw the first car spin out and hit the express lane’s concrete barrier. From his truck, Ward tried to process the sounds he was hearing: a chain reaction of thuds as metal hit metal in the dark early morning hours, his vision clouded by sleet and rain. 

“For some reason I was put there, I don’t know why,” Ward said. “But it was fate. With us being right there, the response time to the wreck was minimized, because we weren’t waiting on 911 calls. As soon as the first car struck the barrier, we had units there. That made a big difference.” 

Ward transported a critical patient to the hospital and returned to the scene once more to help transport other victims. In the weeks after the pileup, Ward struggled with terrifying nightmares that put him back on I-35, where he bore witness to the unthinkable. 

He’s been able to lean on his wife and MedStar911 coworkers who, like Ward, understand that the trauma will never completely go away. Talking about the incident and examining his emotions has helped him cope with what he saw on Feb. 11, Ward said. 

“The big questions coming out of (the pileup) were: ‘Did I operate at the highest point of my ability? Or did I screw up?’” Ward said. “It’s always in the back of my head, and most first responders you talk to will say the same thing. I’ve gotten better and better, and have kind of come to blows with: ‘I guess I did OK. Nobody died in my truck.’” 

Focus on first responders, grieving families

It was Tiffany’s mother, Cindy, who first came up with the idea to celebrate first responders like Ward, Jeff Gerred said. Many firefighters, police officers and EMTs spent hours in the freezing cold helping to clean up the wreckage, he added. 

“For us, as a family, our result was not the desired result, (but) that doesn’t minimize the efforts of the first responders,” he said. 

Family members previously organized a bowling tournament fundraiser for The WARM Place, a Fort Worth nonprofit organization that supports grieving children and their families, including Tiffany’s daughter Emri.  

The event was an overwhelming success, raising about $4,000 for the charity, said Kristen Gerred, Tiffany’s sister-in-law and best friend. The Gerreds ultimately hope to create their own nonprofit foundation focused on supporting grieving kids like Emri, she said. 

“We have a child that had a mother who was so thoughtful, and showed how much she cared. She went the extra mile and made signs for your special days,” Kristen Gerred said. “You know what a huge loss that is for a child at 11 years old. Very quickly, we knew that as a family we wanted to be able to help kids going through similar situations.”

For now, the family is turning its attention toward supporting first responders. Dozens of groups have signed up and people as far as California and Arizona have offered to organize donation events in their own cities, Jeff Gerred said. He doesn’t see the momentum for Fort Worth First Responders Day stopping any time soon. 

“There’s no intention for this to be a one-year thing, and hopefully it will spread,” he said. “We’ve been really just completely bowled over by the response for this first year, so if we can build on the momentum year over year and keep growing, we think it could be something really special.”

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman FoundationContact her by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Avatar photo

Haley Samsel

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She previously covered the environment for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She grew up in Plano and graduated from American University,...

Leave a comment