Austin Fire Dept. Battalion Chief Travis Maher spent his life serving others – 23 years with the Austin Fire Department, 25 years with the Wimberley Fire Rescue, 21 years as a member of Texas A&M Task Force 1, and task force leader of the TX-TF1 Water Rescue Team. To many, he was considered “the face of disaster response.” After being diagnosed with a terminal disease from exposure to toxic materials while responding to 9/11’s Ground Zero, he spent his last weeks under Hospice Austin’s care. He called our staff heroes.
He was the hero.
According to his wife, Lauren, Travis had a natural way of ensuring that the people he helped were able to maintain their dignity. Lauren believed it was his experience at Ground Zero that put that perspective in his heart. When he was not fighting fires with AFD or responding to disasters with TX-TF 1, Travis was a teacher and continued to train students in water rescue and at the Texas Annual Fire Training School at Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service. Helping people was his calling, his hobby, and his life’s passion.
Lauren said that she and Travis interviewed several hospice agencies so they would know who they wanted when that time came. They chose Hospice Austin. “The staff at Hospice Austin talked about hospice work being a calling,” she said. “They knew their business so well but they still made room for us to have a voice. Travis was a strong, opinionated person – to go from healthy to sick in seven months, you become a person you don’t recognize. Hospice Austin allowed him his dignity to make his own decisions.”
Travis was at Hospice Austin’s Christopher House the first time in early December last year for 11 days, where he became very attached to some of the staff including his nurse, Teddy Fitzpatrick and nurse aide, Freddy Gonzales. Lauren said that their goal was for him to remain at home as long as he could be kept comfortable. He worked hard to get strong enough to return back home.
Once home in Wimberley, he asked if Freddy could continue to be his personal care attendant, not realizing that Freddy lived in Killeen. Freddy’s supervisor sadly informed them that it was not likely since he lived two hours away, but she would ask anyway.
“I said absolutely I would go to his side wherever he is,” Freddy recalled. “This man put his life on the line and actually gave it – how can I say no to helping him at home no matter the time and distance. It’s nothing from me compared to the sacrifice and gifts of life he gave us.”
Travis was home for a little over a week before his pain spiked. He and Lauren returned to Christopher House.
“Christopher House became our second home,” Lauren said. “The facility is beautiful but the people in it made it that much more special. I was able to keep my promise to him – to keep him safe and get his pain under control.”
Travis’ goal was to celebrate Christmas with Lauren and his two sons, and he was able to do that. He passed away on Dec. 28th. The evening he died, 45 of his colleagues were present to honor and accompany him to the funeral home in a procession of EMT, police, and fire trucks. His wife insisted that they wait until Travis’ nurse, Teddy, could come to Christopher House to be there, too.
Travis’ legacy lives on.
“I made Travis a promise at the end that I would continue his efforts of humanity in his name with every new encounter that I come across – his ethics and efforts will not be discontinued because he isn’t physically with us anymore,” Freddy said. “And I think daily how to make impacts of kindness and extra efforts to help whomever needs help … in Travis’ name.”