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Father of deceased firefighter knows son ‘answered God’s call o

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Brisk Texas winds whisk cold ashes and flutter yellow police tape stretched across the lot where the Precious Faith Temple once stood in a Fort Worth, Texas, suburb. Little seems secure after a Feb. 15 church fire when two would-be daddies, both outstanding Christian men, and a young volunteer lost their lives fighting the blaze possibly started by an arsonist.
Family, friends and firefighters from around the nation and world gathered to remember Phillip Dean, Brian Collins and Garry Sanders at Birchman Baptist in Fort Worth during three separate memorial services held on consecutive days beginning with Dean’s, Thursday, Feb. 18.
Facing the inevitable question of why this tragedy had to happen, John Collins, Brian’s father, shared that despite the pain of losing his son, God is still in control.
Brian, 35, who had taught Sunday school, was off-duty and fought his last fire as a volunteer. His father, a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate and minister of senior adults at Birchman, knew Brian understood the risks of firefighting and was simply answering God’s call.
“If he came to me right now and said, ‘Dad, is it OK for me to continue being a fireman next week, even if it costs me my life?’ I would say, ‘Son, go do it. This is what God has called you to do.’ The Lord called us both to a ministry. Mine is with people through the Word; his was with people through the fire department,” the elder Collins said.
While his father attended Southwestern, Brian, then in middle school, heard of another seminary student, an associate pastor, whose house had burned. The man rescued his children but thought his wife, who had escaped another way, was still inside. He died trying to find her in the burning house. “That made a very dramatic impression on him,” Collins remembered.
“For Brian’s death to come while volunteering in a church fire shows that our God is a God of circumstances,” said Collins. “I think he’s trying to say something through Brian’s life that will live on beyond him.”
Brian majored on fire protection, evidenced in his fire station where he constantly challenged his peers to attain a level of excellence through training plans and classes he designed to make his colleagues the safest firefighters possible. He was introduced by fellow firefighters as “Brian Collins: Fire runs from him.”
“Brian didn’t take chances,” said Collins. “He always told me, ‘Dad, if I ever think there is a problem, risk factors considered, I’ll play it safe.”
Brian’s concern reached past the fire department. The first thing he did upon entering a building was to check for sprinkler heads in the ceiling and look for exits.
“It wasn’t paranoia, but if something happened, he wanted to be able to respond and do it knowingly,” said Collins.
His father is picking up where his son left off.
“The Lord gave us all the information we needed to prevent this tragedy; he told us what we needed to do,” said Collins, who warns churches against cutting corners in fire safety.
He urged churches to clean up trash-filled rooms, to add exits to building extensions, to put in a sprinkler system “no matter how ugly you think it looks” and to make fire safety foundational to avoid facing what the pastor of Precious Faith Temple is facing.
“I know his heart has to be broken. Brian’s and Phillip’s and Gary’s death certificates were filled in about 35 years ago when that church building was originally built,” said Collins.
Collins said that if the fire had taken place 24 hours earlier during Sunday morning services, “We’d be burying children, youth, parents, grandpas and grandmas rather than three firemen.”
Area businesses and residents collected thousands of dollars for the three firefighters’ families. Since his grandchildren’s education is covered, Collins is encouraging Brian’s station to use the money to get infrared equipment.
“Without it, the fire chief must act like he is blindfolded sending blind men into a deadly situation,” said Collins.
One of Brian’s fellow firefighters in the burning church said that, though he had been in smoke-filled fire training rooms in fire academy and in other fires, he had never been in a place as dark as the room where Brian died.
Even in the loss of his son, Collins is anxiously awaiting God’s next move.
“You wonder how God brings good out of all things. Right now there is almost an excitement to see what God will do,” said Collins, who has seen God move mightily among firefighters because of Brian’s example and sacrifice.
“One of the firemen told me, ‘I go to church, but if my epitaph had to be written right now, no one could say I was a godly man. That’s what I want my children to know me as — a godly man,'” said Collins. “Three other firemen told me they’d been looking for a church and thought, after this week, they’d found one. One guy said, ‘I can’t remember ever being in church, but I want what Brian had.'”
Collins was able to share with one of the fallen firefighter’s brothers, also a fireman.
“I want you to know there’s another relationship that you need, and that’s the one with your Father above,” he told the man. “It’s even better than the ones you’ve got now, and just as great, it’s going to take those you already have now and just expand, deepen and widen them.”
The honor that firefighters from all over the world and the city of Fort Worth paid his son overwhelmed Collins. Seeing thousands of firefighter badges covered by black swatches and shoulder patches of Oklahoma City departments, whose firefighters are the “epitome of what firemen are called to go through,” caused his tears to flow. Yet Collins found God’s grace to offer the final prayer over his son’s casket at graveside.
“My prayer was to thank the Lord for what he’d given us in Brian, and just seek him to be a husband to the widows and a father to the fatherless,” Collins said.
Through this tragedy, Collins challenges Christians to ask the Lord to do something great. On Feb. 14, the day before the fire, John and other men met with their pastor at 8 a.m. to pray.
“Without exception all four of us asked the Lord to take Birchman and do something through her during that week to impact the community, that they might know the love of Christ. Everybody would pray that, right?” said Collins. “In closing though, we added, ‘and we’re willing to pay the cost.'”
After the final memorial service at Birchman Saturday, which once again drew crowds in the thousands, it dawned on Collins that God had indeed answered the prayer. He thanked God.
“It was a continuation of being able to stand before my son’s coffin and say, ‘Lord, thank you for 35 years with a son who has honored you, and now is being honored by men,'” he said.
“If you told me 25 years ago I’d be talking about this, I would have said, ‘No way would I pay the price,'” said Collins. “But God didn’t ask me back then; he asked me now.”
“I miss my son,” said Collins with tears in his eyes. “He was a boy who answered God’s call on his life, followed him faithfully, walked into a situation knowing his life was in danger, trusted the men around him enough to stay dedicated to serve, and God called him home.”
Terry Caywood, director of business services at Southwestern, was asked to deliver the message during the memorial service for Dean. The two met when Caywood taught Dean and his wife, Renea, in a Sunday school class for young married couples. Dean, 29, was active in his church where he led a mission trip, became a Sunday school teacher and played guitar.
“Phillip has given love, friendship, dedication and now his life in service to the community,” Caywood told the nearly 2,000 mourners. “Yet Phillip knew someone who gave his life also. That someone was not merely a man but Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection makes possible the gift of new life.
“Phillip could not be saved from that fire,” Caywood continued. “But before he ever stepped foot in that building on Monday, his belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior had already saved him from the eternal fire of hell.”
Caywood shared how to have new life through faith in Christ. Knowing that an altar call was out of the question with the massive crowd, names and numbers of area Baptist churches were printed on the back of funeral bulletins for further guidance.
“The memorial service was a phenomenal event,” said Caywood. “Firefighters have an incredible brotherhood that I’ve never experienced before. My hope is that God was glorified.”
He was, according to John Babler, assistant professor of social work and ministry-based evangelism at Southwestern and member of Birchman.
Babler reminds those who minister to people in grief to prayerfully consider family needs and make specific offers to help. “Offering to do laundry or take the kids to the zoo will help much more than, ‘Call me if you need anything,'” he said. When he lost his brother at a young age, Babler remembered trying to make sense of school or how the next meal would be important. “You don’t remember what people say at a time like that,” he said. “You just remember that they’re there.”
Opportunities to minister in the aftermath of this tragedy abound. Phillip’s wife, Renea, delivered their first child, Elijah Phillip, Saturday, Feb. 20, two days after his father was buried. Brian’s wife, Mary, is due with their third child, a son, in June.
Donations in honor of the three fireman are being received.
For Phillip Dean, contact: Christian Sports Outreach International, 6052 Hillcrest Dr., Fort Worth, TX 76148, or Prison Fellowship Ministries, 1856 Old Reston Ave., Reston, VA 20190-3321.
For Brian Collins, contact: Mary Collins Trust Fund, c/o Fort Worth City Credit Union, Box 100099, Fort Worth, TX 76185-0099.
For donations to the fallen firefighter fund, contact: Nations Bank,5251 River Oaks Blvd., Fort Worth, TX 76114.

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  • Cindy Kerr