Kirby firefighter’s severe hearing loss doesn’t stop her from saving lives

Konstance Garner shows off the technology that helps her thrive as an EMT, firefighter

KIRBY, TEXAS – Being a firefighter and EMT is a tough job that calls for perfect communication skills. That’s why a Kirby firefighter says people underestimate her and her extreme hearing loss.

However, thanks to state-of-the-art technology, she can save lives just as well as her crew members.

“There was something about wanting to have that challenge,” Konstance Garner said.

That spark of determination began at birth.

“Being born with a cleft lip and palate and then, having to do 12 years of speech therapy and then over 20 surgeries I had to overcome,” Garner said.

Baby and childhood photo of Konstance Garner. (Konstance Garner)

Garner has profound hearing loss in her left ear and severe hearing loss in her right.

With her passion for working in the medical field, general hearing aids wouldn’t cut it.

“Going into the house fires and things like that, you’re hearing crucial because sometimes you cannot see. So you have to rely on your hearing,” Garner explained.

So she got a Cochlear implant with a device called the Baha Bone Conduction System.

The implant connects to the bone outside the ear, and on the outside of the scalp is the top of a screw, which can snap onto the small removable sound processor.

With the implant, her hearing is at 100 percent.

“It is just like beauty, you know? You put it on, and it’s like life,” Garner said.

Konstance Garner's Cochlear implant (Konstance Garner)

Her ability to rise above challenges served her well in the fire academy two years ago.

“Being the smallest and only female, they underestimated me,” she said.

She put in hours of extra training each day and ended up winning the prestigious Top Rung award for being top of her class.

“There’s a purpose for everyone. So I just wanted to keep going and know that you can’t break me,” she said.

Konstance Garner and her Top Rung Award (Konstance Garner)

Garner also uses a different helmet, called a European helmet, that offers more room for her cochlear implant.

She said it just goes to show modifying the way she works doesn’t have to affect her ability.

Konstance is a respected and crucial part of the team as both a firefighter and EMT.

“This team is amazing. We work very hard together,” she said.

For her success, she humbly credits technology, showing off a stethoscope created for the deaf or hard of hearing.

“Make sure I turn it on,” she explained, holding the electronic stethoscope. “Then I have my phone connected to my Baha. It’s the Cochlear app, and I can change the channels. For example, I have a channel on here for when I’m outside. It will drown out sounds from the road right there, so I can talk to you and hear you more clearly. With the stethoscope, I’m putting on channel 5. That connects it. First, I hear some beeps, and now I can hear it. I can then use this stethoscope like anyone else would,” she explained.

Every time Garner saves a life, she knows the struggle and extra work were worth it.

“You were able to bring them back and get them to the hospital and then find out that they made it. Words can’t describe that,” she said.

Garner wants the hard-of-hearing community to know nothing is impossible.

“You’re automatically looked at differently, and people judge you right off the bat. So you have to have that backbone. Put your foot down, speak up, stand up for yourself,” she said with a smile.

She’s not done yet. She now plans to get her advanced EMT certificate this year and her Class B license so she can start driving the fire engines.

Garner also wants to get a master’s degree, make fire captain, and someday, become fire chief.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.

Sal Salazar is a photojournalist at KSAT 12. Before coming to KSAT in 1998, he worked at the Fox affiliate in San Antonio. Sal started off his career back in 1995 for the ABC Affiliate in Lubbock and has covered many high-profile news events since. In his free time, he enjoys spending time at home, gaming and loves traveling with his wife.