SIZE UP Issue 2 • 2017

From the Chaplains’ Study


A Great Rescue

Rev. Jim Van Houten, Chaplain

New York State Association of Fire Chaplains, Inc.


IN MY HELMET, I have a verse of scripture found in Isaiah 43:2, which reads, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” I find it very comforting to know that the Lord goes with us as firefighters on every call. In some calls, we see His hand, and in others, it’s not as obvious. I’d like to share the following story about a call I responded to where I saw several miracles of God’s assistance, which made our response both safe and successful.


At 2:11 p.m. on March 7, our fire horn sounded, and our pagers carried the message that an elderly man who was ice fishing had fallen through the ice on Osiris Lake. A woman who lived on the lake experienced a strange feeling directing her to look out her window at the lake. That was the first miracle, for she saw the victim fall through the ice and called 911 within 30 seconds.


Serving as both 1st lieutenant and chaplain, I responded to our station house. Realizing that every minute would count, I prayed that the Lord would be with the victim and that He would get us to the scene in time. I made it to our fire house in record time, and so did the other first responders. This was the second miracle of the day. Everyone in our village reacted to our blur of lights in the same way, and they pulled over to let us pass. This had never happened before!


A third miracle took place as we approached the scene with our rescue and first engine. A neighbor was waiting at the entrance road to guide us directly to the victim, saving valuable time. We found the victim clinging to the edge of the ice and using an ice auger to hold himself above the water. We tried to throw him a rope several times, but his hands were too numb to grip it. We shouted words of encouragement to the victim, “Just hold on; we will get you out.” We were all well aware that some victims give up just seconds before rescuers can reach them, and we didn’t want this to happen.


With mutual aid departments and their ice rescue equipment still 10 minutes away, our chief said, “Let’s commandeer a boat,” for there were several along the shore. However, we found that they were all chained and padlocked to trees. The chief asked me to pray even harder. That’s when a fourth miracle took place. They pulled hard on one of the locks and it opened.


The one attribute that characterizes all firefighters is their willingness to put their own lives in danger to save someone they have never met, so getting volunteers to man the boat was no problem. With a rope tied to the boat, four firefighters, two pushing on the stern and two inside the boat with pike poles, headed toward the victim. About 10 yards from the victim, the two firefighters on the stern broke through the ice and were forced to get into the boat. They poled the rest of the way to the victim. With five feet to go, the victim began to sink out of sight, as he couldn’t hold on any longer. This is when the fifth miracle took place. The firefighter in the front of the boat dove forward, completely out of the boat, with the second firefighter grabbing his feet. He reached under the water, grabbed the victim, and pulled him to the surface and into the boat.


But the rescue was not over yet, for with five men and gallons of water in the boat, it broke through the ice and almost tipped over. The firefighters attempted to steady the boat with their pike poles, and that’s when the sixth miracle took place. The stern of the boat rose above the ice just long enough for 15 firefighters to pull them all to the safety of the shore. Our ambulance corps treated a very cold, but grateful fisherman, who was in good spirits and amazingly good physical condition.


God is good, all the time! I will be praying that as in the words of Isaiah 43:2, the Lord will be riding with you on every call that you respond to. You may even want to place a copy of this great verse in your helmet to inspire and give you peace in times of trouble.



Rev. Jim Van Houten is the pastor of the Walden Baptist Church in Walden, N.Y. He has been a firefighter and chaplain in Walden for 35 years, and also serves as chaplain for both the Montgomery and Coldenham fire departments. Van Houten is currently the chief chaplain for the New York State Association of Fire Chaplains, Inc.