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Firefighter-paramedic puts pen to crises with spiritual lessons

FORT PIERCE, Fla. (BP)–Tommy Neiman was once told by colleagues he should share some of his fire and rescue calls with the TV show, “Rescue 911.” It was not just an idle suggestion — the Fort Pierce/Saint Lucie County Fire District, where Neiman works as a firefighter and paramedic, has been featured on the popular series three times.
But Neiman felt impressed to share his stories through a different medium, one that would allow him to inspire and minister to others recounting times when he has seen God at work in the midst of crises.
“The Lord has shown me a lot of things” through emergency calls, said Neiman, a bivocational pastor, and it would be selfish, he thought, to not share them with others.
The result is “Sirens for the Cross,” a collection of vivid stories of fires, accidents, medical emergencies and — in one of several chapters tagged “a lighter moment” — a call from an elderly lady distraught over a mysterious “chirp” sound, which turned out to be not a malfunctioning pacemaker as she feared, but just a smoke detector needing new batteries. Neiman began writing the book on loose-leaf notebook paper during his late-night, on-call hours at the fire station. He accumulated three notebooks, and from those selected the stories he considered most spiritually significant.
He did not have a publisher in mind at the time, but less than a month later, on a phone call about other business, he learned that Sue Reynolds, wife of the director of the Fellowship of Christian Firefighters, was a writer and had a publishing company. Her specialty was equestrian books, but when Neiman told her about his collection of fire and rescue stories, she agreed to take on the project.
Neiman is trusting God will use his book to reach people who normally wouldn’t pick up anything spiritual but might be attracted to this one through real-life dramas that have given rise to shows like “Rescue 911,” “E.R.” and “Cops.”
“It’s my prayer,” Neiman said, “that through those stories, people will come to know Christ as the true Rescuer.”
Neiman’s fire and rescue stories often find a way into his sermons at Okeechobee Road Baptist Chapel, a mission sponsored by two Fort Pierce churches — Orange Avenue Baptist, where Neiman is a member, and Sunrise Baptist.
“A pastor is always looking for ‘ammo,’ and working in fire rescue gives me plenty of artillery,” he said.
The Okeechobee Road congregation has grown from 15 people to approximately 40, many of whom are firefighters, Neiman said.
“I do have a heart for my fellow firefighters all over the country and internationally,” he said. He is actively involved in the Fellowship of Christian Firefighters, which has five chapters in Florida (Treasure Coast, Miami, Tampa, Gainesville and West Palm Beach) among some 85 chapters across the United States, in Europe and in Australia.
Since its release a few months ago, Neiman said Sirens for the Cross has gotten a positive response from other firefighters, many of whom are not very active spiritually.
It is amazing, he said, how unbelievers can work in a profession that confronts them with so much human tragedy and not have questions about mortality or sense a need for God.
“I couldn’t go on if I didn’t know there’s a God in heaven who loves us and has a perfect will,” Neiman said. As a Christian, “I can still know in a hopeless situation that God is in control.” Even so, he admitted, many calls can “take you on an emotional ride.”
The knowledge that people have been put in situations of endangerment or death because of someone else’s carelessness or poor decisions — such as taking drugs or drinking and driving — can be especially hard to deal with, he said. “But I believe God understands our anger” and “he is able to calm me down with his peace and love.”
And, “I’ve learned to accept that it’s sometimes God’s will to take a life,” he said.
“I don’t force my spirituality on anyone,” Neiman said. But as he relates to co-workers, and when he goes to the scene of a tragedy with sensitivity to God’s leading, “God opens doors of opportunity,” he said.
He has prayed with people, offered words of spiritual encouragement and at times openly shared the plan of salvation, he said. “I’ve never had anyone complain.”
Sirens for the Cross is available at Christian bookstores or from the publisher, Embrace Communications, 6887 Red Mountain Road, Livermore, CO 80536; phone 1-800-322-9848; e-mail [email protected].

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  • Shari Schubert