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Firefighter ministers to peers in fire-scorched western states

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Breathing smoke, walking for miles on blistered feet in the August heat, and sleeping under the stars. These are just a few of the memories Bud Fritz has of traveling out West to help firefighters in a summer when some of the worst recorded forest fires burned. And fighting fires wasn’t the real reason Fritz wanted to go.

For Fritz, a member of First Baptist Church in Poplar Bluff, Mo., traveling deep into the hills around Scipio, Utah, and Salmon, Idaho, was all about forming relationships and ministering to his fire team from Mingo Job Corps in Puxico.

As a 14-year Job Corps educator, Fritz has had many opportunities to share his faith with young people, most from difficult backgrounds.

The fire team’s responsibility was to go into areas that had burned, clean them up and put out any small fires still burning. Fritz talked to team members while waiting for firefighters to clear an area.

On most days, the team awoke at 5:30 a.m. and returned around 10 p.m. Many firefighters carried 65-pound packs during long hikes through the wilderness. “There are going to be times when you want to quit,” Fritz said.

Being away from his wife, Gayla, and two children made the trip out West even more difficult. Fritz said prayer support from his church meant a lot. Bill Vail, pastor of First Baptist Church, Poplar Bluff, said there was a natural concern for his safety.

“Anybody would be concerned when someone goes to fight a fire, but we felt like he was in God’s hands,” Vail said.

“He does a great job with the kids he works with at Mingo.”

Since returning, Fritz said, several fire team members have gone to church with him. “They’ve been coming pretty regularly. I hope they continue to come.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo title: BUD FRITZ.

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  • Shawn Hendricks