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South Carolina pastor uses fire chief position as an avenue for ministry

Dwight Easler (left) and his son Seth, who is a career firefighter in Greenville, S.C. Submitted photo

GAFFNEY, S.C. (BP) – Every pastor has a burning passion for the Lord and his church. For Dwight Easler, this burning passion carries over into his work as a local fire chief, which he views as an extension of his ministry.

Easler has served as the senior pastor of Corinth Baptist Church and with the Corinth Fire Department for nearly 20 years.

He told Baptist Press the role is not only about meeting emergency needs in the community, but also about building relationships.

“It has been a way to not only serve people, but also meet people and share the Gospel with both people in the community and fellow firefighters,” Easler said.

Easler and fellow firefighters respond to a fire emergency. Submitted photo

“I’ve met people, and developed relationships with people outside of the church. Over the years you pick up a first-name basis with these people in the community. Them seeing a pastor outside of the church world gives an opportunity to be there for them when they struggle.

“Many of these relationships have results in Gospel conversations. I see this as an extension of ministry for me.”

Being in the fire service has also helped Easler in his ministry. 

“As a pastor, it gives me the opportunity to be outside of the church world and see what the community is really going through,” Easler said. “I can go back to the church and talk about these needs I see. It has also taught me lessons about relationships and leadership.”

Easler said his role as fire chief is mainly an administrative and leadership role, but he will often be a part of a team responding to an emergency call in the district.

Last year the Corinth Fire Department responded to more than 400 emergency calls within both its rural community and other neighboring districts. Easler was personally a part of responding to more than 200 of those calls.

For Easler, an interest in fire service started from a young age. His father was a Navy firefighter, and two of his cousins also were involved with the fire service.

Easler began his fire training as a teenager in the late 1980s and would go on to serve the local fire department in Youngsville, N.C., while attending Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

In total, he has served with four different fire departments since completing his training, and became fire chief in Corinth in March of 2020.

“We are there to be a help on somebody’s worst day,” says firefighter and pastor Dwight Easler. “It will cost you and take things out of you, but I am serving others and have the opportunity to show the love of Jesus in a practical way.”

He became interested in fire service because it seemed exciting and he wanted to spend more time with his father. And the field continues to be a family affair, as Dwight’s son Seth is now a career firefighter in Greenville, S.C.

The job has changed a lot, he said, especially the additional emergency services that fire departments now provide. Responding to fires is only about 25 percent of the emergency calls his department responds to.

The other 75 percent of response calls involve other emergencies like vehicle accidents, fallen trees or wires, situations involving hazmat materials and various medical needs.

Easler said fewer people are getting involved with the fire service, both vocationally and as volunteers, even as the number of people needed in an emergency continues to rise.

He explains to new trainees that they should expect to deal with a lot of low man-power situations in their emergency responses.

Despite these difficulties, Easler said he desires to use his role to “mentor younger guys and help them grow and develop.”

Easler added pastors with firefighters in the congregation have a unique opportunity to minister to these members, particularly in helping them process the traumatic experiences they often go through.

“For pastors, try to have more of an understanding about what emergency services go through in today’s world,” Easler said.

“There needs to be a level of understanding about who you have in your church, but also how to minister to those folks. It can sometimes just help to be a listening ear and a helping hand. Almost like a ministry of presence. I think pastors can be a huge help in their community in this way.”

Easler also exhorted fellow Southern Baptists to consider if fire service is the right vocation or volunteer opportunity for them.

“For the Christian, it is an opportunity to grow as a person but also to grow in your Gospel connections in the community,” he said.

“It helps you develop relationships outside of the church, but also be the hands and feet of Jesus. It really can be a Christian activity. We are there to be a help on somebody’s worst day. It will cost you and take things out of you, but I am serving others and have the opportunity to show the love of Jesus in a practical way.”