Southern California, October 2007 - Houses were burning all around us. Split-second decisions dictated whose homes would be saved and whose would be lost. It was the type of triage none of us enjoyed. In a strange way, firefighters are often at their very best during these times of oppressive heat, devastation, and danger. We are trained to remain level-headed and situationally aware even in times of extreme emergency.
As we attempted to suppress the fires burning in any one particular house, there came a time when we knew that the house could not be saved. At that moment, we would give each other the sign. The sign meant that we would make one last run through the burning house to collect whatever we thought would be most important to the family that lived there. We would pull family photos off the wall, pick up jewelry boxes, grab important-looking file cabinets, snatch video cameras, photo albums and computers – anything that we thought would be of sentimental value to the residents. We pulled antique cars out of people’s garages and parked them on the front lawn. This all had to be done in a matter of 30 – 45 seconds – seconds before the house went up in a ball of fire.
Those are some of the most worthwhile minutes we spend as firefighters – helping to save something --- anything of value to the residents. We witnessed families return to their homes after the fire to find nothing more than a concrete slab. Yet next to the slab on the burned front lawn, they saw a pile of framed photographs, old home movies, mementos, jewelry boxes, or file cabinets – all untouched by fire and smoke. The families would look around and wonder how such a thing happened? How did their most prized and important possessions end up saved from the wreckage? They would look left, and right? Still, they had no idea how it happened. Then they looked up into the sky – and all their questions were answered – for they knew God had a role in this salvation.
Our fire crew would look at each other and not say a word. We just went about our business of cleaning up with a little more appreciation for a job that allows us to serve others in such unique and unconventional ways.– Phil Black, San Diego Fire Department
HOW I GOT STARTED AND WHAT I DO
I grew up a son of a firefighter but surprisingly did not want to be a firefighter until the age of 19. My dream was to be a professional baseball player but God had a different plan for my life. Through a series of events, my passion for baseball was overtaken by my passion to help others and the fire service would provide many opportunities for me to pursue my passion. At age 19 I started taking fire technology classes at a local junior college. I worked for an ambulance company for 1 ½ years as an Emergency Medical Technician and another 6 months as a Paramedic. When I was 22 years old I was hired by the Manhattan Beach Fire Department as a Firefighter/Paramedic. After 6 ½ years with Manhattan Beach I started over as a rookie with the Anaheim Fire Department where I have spent the last 12 ½ years. As an Engineer/Paramedic I am responsible for driving my crew safely to an incident as well as maintenance and upkeep of the fire engine and it’s equipment. It is also my job to make sure that my firefighters not only have enough water and at the correct pressure, but also never runs out. On medical calls I get the opportunity to help and serve others as a Paramedic.
WHY FITNESS IS IMPORTANT TO ME
My fitness lifestyle today is very active and balanced. My basic workout plan is to stay moving and have fun doing it. I like to go the gym two to three times a week and do other cardio type workouts when ever possible. My gym workouts are designed to strengthen my body and keep myself fit so that I can use this body that God gave me to serve Him, Serve my wife and kid’s, and perform my job as a firefighter in a way that would honor Him. I love Cross Fit workouts because you can work all of your muscle and strengthen your core while burning a lot of calories in a short amount of time. Cross Fit workouts combine weights, aerobics, balancing, and gymnastic type resistance exercises and can be done anywhere with very little equipment. Non-gym days include ice hockey, soccer, beach volleyball, softball, basketball, roller Hockey, and just about anything my kid’s want to do. The key for me is to mix workouts up in order to use all muscle groups and to keep the body guessing, and most importantly - have fun! My diet is simple and balanced. I try to eat less processed foods and more raw natural foods. I always start the day with a large glass of water. I eat three to five small meals each day with my largest meal at lunchtime. Dinner is usually light and eaten no later than 6 p.m. Lot’s of water and NO SODA is a must.
WHAT FAITH MEANS TO ME
I grew up with religion. My family went to church here and there and on Christmas and Easter. I believed in God but did not know anything about Him or what His plans were for my life. If you looked at me from the outside you would see a guy who has it all, a great job and a nice home with a beautiful wife and awesome kids and the best dog a man could have. A look at the inside reveled a different picture. When I changed fire departments I took a big pay cut but was already living way beyond my means. My marriage was a wreck because of the two selfish people involved and I would mask all of this stress with alcohol. My second firehouse during probation was unique because six of the eight crewmembers were Christians. This made it possible for me to see different Christian walks. A couple of guys called themselves Christians but didn’t act a whole lot different than me. One guy cornered me daily to throw scriptures at me. But - there was one guy who was always smiling and always had something positive to say about his wife and co-workers. This guy had a peace about him that I wanted. So, one night I went to him and told him that I wanted his kind of life. That night Matt introduced me to an incredible Lord and Savior.
When I heard about all of the Christian firefighters that were praying for me I was humbled - hard. Some of these guys I had treated badly. Yet they still prayed for me. I’ve learned that it is so important to live each day in a way that is a blessing to others. When we do that, others can see God’s peace and love through you. I’ve learned that I can never give up on people and never stop praying for them. I know this because I’m a living example of answered prayers.
HOW I CONNECT FITNESS WITH MY FAITH
I found through trial and error over the years that I wasted a lot of time working out for the wrong and mostly selfish reasons. I would work out with a goal, but not a purpose. I would reach my goal and then slowly creep back into my old way of poor eating and exercise. God showed me that when I gave my life to Him I didn’t give it all to Him. I forgot to give Him my body, my mind, my diet, and my thoughts. The Bible teaches that your body is a part of Christ and that the Lord cares about your body. It also says that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Once I studied these scriptures I realized that I needed to start caring about my body and to treat it in a way that would honor Christ. I needed to take care of this temple from the inside out so that I can be used for God’s Purposes by the guiding of his spirit.
I wanted to find God’s purpose for me. So, I read in the Bible where Jesus tells his disciples, “You will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere-in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”. This scripture passage gave me a reason and a purpose to take care of my body. God wants us to tell everyone, everywhere about him and to use our bodies as a vessel to help accomplish his purposes. Staying healthy allows me to be a better servant, a better husband and father, a better firefighter, and an overall better person to by around.
THE STRENGTH GOD GIVES ME FOR SERVICE
What I love about my job is that I get to go to work and help people make their day a little better. It is so awesome to be used by God to heal the sick, restore life to the dead, and to bring life into the world. What a blessing it is when someone who was once dead walks into your fire station with a plate of cookies to thank you for giving him or her a second chance at life. I get to share that I was just making myself available to be used by God and that it is God that deserves all of the credit. Sometimes there is nothing in your medical box that can help a person in need so I have to use the best tool that I have. Sometimes all you can do is hold someone’s hand and offer them prayer. It is amazing how a prayer can change a person’s life.
MY BEGINNINGS UP TO NOW
I grew up in a small town in Texas. At the age of three our very small home was burned to the ground during the Christmas holidays. We lost everything except the clothes we were wearing. My father was burned trying to rescue us from the fire. My parents recalled that after that all I ever said was that I wanted to be a fireman. This became my purpose in life. God has a way of working things out for good for those who love Him. I graduated from high school and joined the navy thinking I would never become a firefighter because I had never seen nor heard of any black firefighters. I decided to become a welder. However, the job of a navy welder was also firefighting. My passion grew.
My career as a firefighter took me to every firefighting school the navy had to offer. After nearly four years of service I was honorably discharged from the Navy. I began attending Miramar College in San Diego. In 1977 the color barrier had already been broken in the fire service but not in every fire department. In 1978, I was hired and became one of the first black federal firefighters in San Diego. During my time there, I graduated from fire college. In 1980, I was hired by the San Diego Fire Department. In 1984, I was promoted to Engineer/ Driver. In 1987, I was promoted to the position I hold today, Fire Captain. Since then, I’ve worked in all areas of our great department. For the past eight years I’ve served at our busiest station. As it turns out my childhood dream of firefighting has indeed been my lifelong career. The word is true, "as you think in your heart, so you become."
A COMMITMENT TO FITNESS TRAINING
My life as a firefighter depends on my level of fitness and training. Though I’ve always stayed in good shape, my commitment to fitness increased in 1981. It was at that time that I purchased a lifetime membership at a 24-hour Family Fitness Gym. I’m blessed today to pay a nominal annual due of just $30. I committed to working out three to four days a week. With few exceptions it is a commitment I’ve maintained. I think consistency is the key to personal fitness. Fitness has become a very important part of my life.
My workouts consist of a minimum 30-65 minutes of cardio and a full body circuit. I always work my whole body. I train for my job. My personal philosophy about training can be summed up in three words: strength, endurance and flexibility. This is the way I train and teach others to train. I have been a fire academy instructor for twenty years. That gives me the edge to stay one step ahead of the young ones entering our department. I try to lead by example. Recently, I have added the new CORE training to my workouts and have seen immediate improvement in my overall fitness and flexibility.
THE PERSPECTIVE OF PLEASING GOD AND SERVING PEOPLE
Faith in God started for me at an early age. I was what was known as a "boy preacher." I was the designated reader for our church. Many of the adults could not read well. So I would read the Bible aloud, and the Pastor would explain it. Then I’d go out and tell others what I learned. I still follow that model today. I read the Bible aloud and explain it so that others can understand it and apply it to their life.
I wear many hats of service. Along with being a full time professional fire officer, I’m a husband, father and grandfather. I serve as one of the fire chaplains for our department. I teach in the Fire Academy as a Lead Hose Lay Instructor. At New Venture Christian Fellowship, my church, I lead the men’s ministry.. I love the Bible and love to read it. To me, the stories are nothing short of fascinating. Bible verses are some of the most important things I commit to memory.
The Bible verse I use to define my life mission says, “Let us not be weary in well doing, for we shall reap if we don’t give up. My life vision is: “To Please God, and Serve People.” Not the other way around of serving God and pleasing people. I believe God has created us all for a specific purpose. My purpose is “to PLEASE God, and SERVE people.
FALLING FROM LADDERS, TRAPED WITHOUT AIR OR JUST BEING USED
Firefighting has given me several memorable experiences. In my work I’ve had to draw on physical strength and the grace of Jesus Christ. Though I’ve had a healthy career, I have had my share of injuries. Through God’s Grace and my fitness routine I have been able to recover quickly from injuries suffered on the fire ground. I have fallen from ladders, roofs and down through ceilings. Once while riding my bicycle to work, I was hit by a car. I have been trapped inside of burning ships, disorientated, and out of air. Through all of this, God has delivered me with encouragement that, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”
As a Christian firefighter and fire department captain, I like to demonstrate my faith to others by the way I live. There is a time and season for everything. Whenever I can, I love to preach to others and teach them from the Bible. But the season isn’t always right for that. Most of the time I just pray and ask God to use my life. I ask Him to let people see his son Jesus in me. I am not always successful, and when I fail, he forgives me. What would Jesus be like if he were a San Diego Fire Captain? I think he would go about each day pleasing God and serving people.
We want to hear from you. How do you use your physical strength to serve others? What kinds of physically demanding service opportunities are there where you can also meet the spiritual needs of others? How can a Christian worldview transform and shape our motives and attitudes for physical and spiritual training.