Ground Zero: One FIirefighter's Ministry
Writer Author Firefighter Tommy Neiman
- Fiction No
I had no idea three years ago a ministry God placed on my heart would be as far reaching and impacting as it is today. But never sell God short. I'm Tommy Neiman, a full time firefighter/paramedic with the Saint Lucie County Fire District in Fort Pierce, Florida.
Three years ago, after watching re-runs of my department's appearances on 'Rescue 911,' I felt burdened to write about my own experiences. I knew after 12 years of working in a busy department I could share similar experiences, but place a greater focus on what was happening on those scenes spiritually. I had witnessed God work in mighty ways and wanted to give Him more of the glory He deserved. 'Sirens for the Cross', published and released in 1999, became a result of that burden. Recounting calls ranging from traumatic medical emergencies to fire scenes, I now had a tool to share with fellow rescuers and readers how God's power and presence could be seen through emergency work.
THEN CAME SEPTEMBER 11TH! I began sending copies of 'Sirens for the Cross' to New York City and praying for an opportunity to personally go to 'Ground Zero.' But I knew after a day or so they had all the firefighting help they needed, and that I would probably just stand behind a barricade if I went. But God changed changed my heart a few weeks later when I received an e-mail from a woman in Ohio. She had picked up a copy of my book and was encouraging me to go and minister to my fellow firefighters in New York City. This lady did not know me from Adam! I knew God was calling me to take a step of faith through that e-mail; to simply book a flight and go even though I didn't know anything. I booked that ticket that very day for the following weekend despite all of the uncertainties. It was then that this little step of faith was rewarded as in the days before going I found myself being asked to be on a NY-NJ radio program, speak in a special church service and participate as a fire chaplain in the massive Urn Ceremony that had been hastily planned by EOC officials. God filled my itinerary in an exciting way- especially with the Urn Ceremony being planned for the very day I would be there. I tell you, we have a God of divine appointments!
At Liberty State Park that Sunday, I was one of 12 fire or police chaplains to distribute Urns to the 26 bus loads of victims family members who were escorted from Ground Zero where the first part of the days events was held. It was unbelievable the wide array of emotions I witnessed that day as I placed those urns in so many trembling hands. With only a minute or so with each group or person, I would just try to make eye contact with them and pray that they would see the compassion of Christ through my eyes. I would tell them we had a God that could comfort them and see them through this tragic time in their life. I'll never forget seeing what so many of the actual victims looked like. How, you might ask. It seemed like on just about every shirt or jacket was a photo button or screen-printing of that family's lost loved one. It brought this whole tragedy to such a personal level and I know it was only by the strength of the Lord that I was able to get through it.
After the Urn ceremony, myself and a handful of fellow fire chaplains walked the still-smoking debris piles of ground zero. Upon entering the site I realized there wasn't a computer image, magazine picture or even TV footage that could compare to being there in person. The sights, the sounds and even the smells where overwhelming. I immediately sensed the evil behind what I was seeing. But I knew I was down there for a mission, and that satan was simply trying to discourage me with the damage and destruction. With armloads of 'Sirens for the Cross" books, God led us across the paths of numerous FDNY firefighters, who were encouraged and oftentimes made there way to us to thank us for being there. They were undoubtedly hungry for spiritual comfort and you could see it in their faces. But nonetheless, after walking the pile for two hours, I was continuing to sense the impact of satan in the destruction and smell of death. But praise God that all changed when I came across the famous steel-beam "Cross" just before leaving the site. Seeing that 'Cross' took all that discouragement and wiped it clean away! It was so powerful and illustrative of just Who really is in control! My spirit was immediately calmed.
A wonderful blessing would come just a short distance away from the Cross where we came across two tired and weary FDNY firefighters. After a brief time of sharing with these two firefighters, they stood to their feet and prayed aloud to receive Christ into their hearts. Heart stopping is the only way to describe the feeling after seeing those guys pray that prayer. That's what it's all about! I tell you, that 'Cross' had new meaning for those two New York City firefighters that night! And it was certainly a powerful assurance to me. Yes, I might have gone into Ground Zero seeing the ultimate in destruction and death, but I left seeing the reason why we have the greatest victory over death:THE CROSS!
FIREFIGHTER TOMMY NEIMAN
Full details of Neiman's time in New York City can be found in the newly released "Ground Zero Tribute Edition" of "Sirens for the Cross." The book is available through Christian bookstores or the ministry website.
Neiman has appeared on "The 700 Club" and does emergency appreciation services with churches nationwide.
Firefighter Nieman's Website
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