Sunday, February 21, 2010

Miracle At Dawn

On February 21, 1997, I came close to becoming a widow when my husband had a close encounter with death while in the line of duty. You see the passenger seat in the photo above? That's where my husband was sitting when part of a church wall crashed onto the cab of his pumper. 

It's a rather long story, and I don't expect that everyone will have time or inclination to read it. But if you're interested in reading how the simple prayer of a firefighter's wife and her little daughter was answered in a mighty big way, here's the long version.

When I married my husband in 1980, I didn't fully understand what it meant to be the wife of a firefighter in a major city like Houston. But it didn't take long for me to get it.

Firefighters are highly educated in building construction and high-rises, in emergency care, hazardous materials, WMD response tactics, as well as the latest rescue and fire-fighting techniques. They also must maintain an extraordinary blend of gentleness and toughness. They fight fires with hands of steel; they comfort victims with hands of compassion. Such duties require not only great physical strength, but enormous mental strength. It isn't an easy task, and it isn't the job for just anybody. 

A firefighter can't fall apart when stumbling upon the charred body of a tiny two-year-old girl whose Christmas tree triggered the house fire that killed her. Firefighters can’t lose control of their emotions when they arrive at the scene of an accident and see a distraught mother who has just witnessed her three-year-old daughter's decapitation by an airbag. 

These things, my husband has witnessed. And when the call comes in that a homeless man has collapsed on a city sidewalk, a firefighter offers the same care to him as he would to his own father. Firefighters react to life's tragedies and catastrophes, to acts of God and to human wretchedness. This is what they do.

It wasn't easy, getting used to being a firefighter's wife. Stan worked 24-hour shifts at a time, giving me plenty of time to worry and be anxious. But, thankfully, God helped me early on to not do those things. Instead, I kissed him goodbye on the morning of his shift, and prayed a prayer for God's protection over him every night when he was away (click on photo to read "A Firewives Prayer"). I refused to live my life in fear, but rather trusted that whatever happened, God would be there.

After the birth of our daughter, whenever Stan was on duty, Anna and I always included a prayer for "Daddy's" safekeeping. And that was exactly what we did on the night of February 20, 1997. We ended our goodnight prayers with, “And God, please keep your hand on Daddy tonight.” With our prayers said, she and I crawled into bed and fell asleep.

About half past five the next morning, I was awakened by the ringing of the telephone. Who is calling me at such an ungodly hour? I wondered, hurrying to silence the ring. “Hello?”

“Mrs. Shockley?” The voice on the other end was a man’s.


“This is Chief Holleman, safety officer with the Houston Fire Department.

“Yes?” I said, my voice uncertain.

“I need to talk to you about your husband.”

Suddenly, my heart raced. “Yes, sir,” I said, still unsure.

"Stan’s been involved in an accident. We’ve got him in the trauma unit at Hermann Hospital right now and …”

I could hardly breathe. My hands began shaking. “What kind of accident?”

“Here’s what we know. Stan and his crew were just arriving on the scene of a church fire early this morning, when part of the church wall fell and crushed the pumper.”

“Crushed the pumper?” I wasn’t sure I’d heard correctly.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Oh, my God! Were they inside the pumper?”

“Yes, ma’am, I’m afraid they were,” he said. “Stan was the only one injured, and we believe he’s going to be okay, but I didn’t want you to hear this on the morning news. They're checking him out …”

“Is he conscious?” It was my voice, but I felt like an observer eavesdropping on someone else’s bad news.

“He blacked out earlier, but he’s conscious now. What I’d like you to do is just hang tight for me. They’re running some tests on him and I’ll call you back as soon as I know more.”

“Chief," I said, a sob catching in my throat, "I really want to be there.”

“I understand, Mrs. Shockley. Let me get these test results, and I’ll call you back. Okay? Just try not to panic. I’ll be in touch soon.”

In that moment, it felt as if every drop of blood drained out of my body; I was practically hanging from the telephone. I collapsed into a chair in the darkened kitchen and tried to catch my breath. Dear God, I pleaded aloud, please let Stan be okay. Please!

Most of my husband’s years in the fire department were spent at Station One, in the heart of downtown. He has been on the roof of every building in Houston's magnificent skyline. During his career, he witnessed countless hair-raising sights—some you’d have a hard time believing. Just the month before the accident, he received a commendation for his outstanding skills as a captain. He had even encountered a few close calls with injury, but never anything of this magnitude. The phone call from Chief Holleman was the call every wife of a firefighter fears: "Your husband is in the trauma unit."

As I attempted to get myself presentable to go to the hospital, the phone rang again. Chief Holleman was sending Chief Kelley out to drive me and Anna to Hermann.

The dreaded moment had arrived. I had to tell my daughter, then 10, that her father—her best buddy—was hurt. She lay sleeping peacefully on my bed.

“Anna, I need you to wake up, baby,” I said. “Mom needs to tell you something.”

She cracked one eye.

“I don't want you to get upset, but Daddy’s been hurt at work and I need to go to the hospital and see him.”

Her eyes flew open. “Mom!” She started to cry. We held each other and prayed. I took her face in mine and said, “No matter what we have to face today, sweetheart, God is going to help us get through it.”

Suddenly, I was filled with a sweet peace as I realized the truth in my words. God would help us get through it, no matter what.

Squeezing my hand, she shut her eyes tight, a thin stream of tears trickling down her cheeks. “I want to go with you to see Daddy,” she said.

A few minutes after six, Chief Kelley arrived at the house. Anna and I climbed into the HFD vehicle and headed toward the medical center, making small talk along the way.

Arriving at the emergency entrance, Chief Holleman was there to meet us, along with Houston’s fire chief, Eddie Corral. “I need to warn you,” Chief Holleman said, as we hurried inside. “Stan looks pretty bad.”

I nodded, my heart pounding out of my chest.

The first person I saw inside the hospital was Stan’s best friend and fellow-HFD member, David. I don’t remember everything, but I do remember falling into his arms and thinking how comforting it felt to have him there. David and I talked awhile and decided he would stay in the waiting area with Anna, while I went in to see Stan. She would see him later.

When I walked into the trauma center, a host of men and women from the fire department instantly surrounded me, all offering their sympathies and wanting to be of help in any way. Never have I felt more like I was among friends than I did that morning. A brother had been injured, and the feeling of camaraderie was powerful.

In the middle of the room, I caught a glimpse of my husband, propped up on a gurney—a pallid, bloody mess he was, but I’d never been happier to see him. A surgeon stood behind him, stitching up a six-inch gash in the top of his head.

When our eyes met across the room—mine and Stan’s—it was a moment frozen in time. He doesn't remember it at all, but I'll never forget it.

The two-alarm blaze was the morning’s top news story in Houston, and headlines in the next day's newspaper. Stan’s crew had been the first to arrive on the scene of the pre-dawn fire at the vacant Good Hope Baptist Church. As his chauffeur pulled around the corner to catch a plug, Stan leaned forward, reaching for the microphone to make his initial report. That’s when part of the church wall came crashing down onto the roof of the pumper, directly above the passenger seat, where he was sitting.

The collective weight and force of the falling structure was so great that it blew out all the tires on the pumper, and left an enormous V-shaped dent just above the passenger seat. Trapped inside the cab and knocked unconscious, Stan began losing blood from the deep wound on his head. Normally, he would have been sitting upright, but he happened to be leaning forward, reaching for the radio microphone. Had he been sitting upright, he most likely would have been killed, or left with severe spinal injuries.

The crew of Engine 1 (who could so easily have been seriously hurt or killed, as well) worked feverishly to free Stan from the wreckage. I was told later by Chief Raney, one of the district chiefs who helped pull Stan out of the pumper, that when he saw Stan’s face, he felt certain he was not going to survive. In Chief Raney’s words, “I’ve seen death, Mrs. Shockley, and Stan had the look of death on his face. I didn't think he would live.”

The editor of the firefighter’s union paper would later write about it this way: “The good Lord was looking out for our members again!”

Indeed, He was. Outside of 25 stitches in his head, and the expected aches and pains from such an injury, Stan would be okay.

Shortly after his release from the hospital, we drove to the shop where the pumper—a total loss—had been towed. As we crawled up and surveyed the tangled wreckage where Stan had been sitting, we looked at each other in a wide-eyed stare, our mouths opened. There was no question about it; a miracle had occurred here. The simple prayer of a firefighter’s wife and daughter had been heard; God’s hand of protection was evident.

Some weeks later, when Stan returned to work, one of his colleagues handed him a picture that had been taken at the scene of the fire and pointed out what looked like the shape of an angel in the flames. I don’t know a lot about angels, nor how they operate on earth, but I do know that an angel was looking out for my husband in the early morning hours of that cold February morning. Of that, I have no doubt.



  1. Praise God for being in that firetruck with your husband, and sparing his life.

  2. I am so glad your husband's life was spared in this horrible accident.


  3. Yikes!!! Praise God...your husband lived through that.

  4. You and your husband truly received a miracle that day. Thanks for sharing the story and I hope God continues to bless your lives.

  5. That picture speaks a thousand words. A miracle indeed.

  6. Your family has truly experienced a miracle and God's power.

  7. Tears are streaming down my face. What a beautiful story. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.

  8. I have the inclination to read but not the time right now. We're off to church. I will come back and read it this afternoon. Thanks for posting.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this, Dayle! God does perform miracles like that everyday. I am so glad that He answered your prayer for your husband, you and your daughter.
    Thank you, again! Have a blessed week!

  10. Wow- I am heading over to read the story. I love hearing all the miracles God performs!
    Visiting from Texas Blogging Gals! Love your blog! Please visit me for a fun giveaway!


  11. WOW...I found myself fighting tears MANY times during that post. What a wonderful story of the mighty hand of God at work. How frightening that had to have been for you at the time, and yet what an inspiration for your faith in Him by not only answering your prayers and protecting your husband, but providing you with peace in the midst of the situation. Praise God not only for this, but for men like your husband who are willing to risk thier lives for others. Have a wonderful week. Blessings, Debbie

  12. I remember this well. A scary day with a happy ending. How different life would be without my dear brother-in-law. P.S. I'm glad he's retired. :-)

  13. Oh, my goodness. I clicked on the link you provided so I could read your story, and it was compelling to say the least. I was fighting tears as I was reading it.

    It's so obvious God was listening to yours and your daughter's prayers and He sent down His angels to protect your husband.

    Wow, what an powerful testimony! Thank you so much for sharing this. Praise God!

    May God bless you and yours today and every day!


  14. For some reason my comments will not post on your other blog where you posted the story about your husband. So I am returning here to let you know I read it with tears in my eyes. It touched my heart and increased my faith. Yes, God hears and answers our prayers. You and your sister are gifted writers. You bless many through what you share. Thank you.

  15. Wow! Wow! Wow! Thank the Lord that he is OK!!! Sounds like a good day to celebrate. :)

  16. Wow, Dayle, what an experience. I couldn't make a comment on the other post, so came back here. Thank you for sharing this with us. I'm so thankful God was watching over your husband.

  17. Dayle - I just went to your other blog and read the entire story. God was certainly looking after your husband that day. My friend Rhodema posted about angels on her Spiritual Sunday post this week. Like you, I don't know a lot about them, but Scripture tells us we may have entertained angels unaware. God bless those men who, like your husband, put their lives on the line each day. I'm sure you are so thankful that he is now retired.


  18. WOW! I just read your story. I had a hard time reading it with all of the tears in my eyes. Yes indeed a prayer was answered that morning.
    God Bless,

  19. Thanks so much for sharing that miraculous story. And thank God for angels and for answering prayers. Blessings ~

  20. Testimonies like these warm my heart and I want to pray faithfully all the more. Thank you!

  21. I read your story and it brought tears to my heart. I can imagine how you felt. Something similar happen to my husband the day after our Son was married. I will never forget that day.

    God Bless you and your family.


  22. I hung on every word of your story.
    I appreciate you sharing your intimate and loving story.
    I is a day to celebrate, year after year!

  23. God has greatly gifted you
    I enjoyed visiting your blog
    God Bless;

  24. He was surely surrounded by guardian angels. God is good.

    Necel from the Old House in Texas

    PS... Found you on Texas Blogging Gals and wanted to pop in for a visit.

  25. Stopping by from Texas Blogging Gals to say hello. That is amazing about your husband, praise God he is still with you today.

  26. What an incredible story! I can see the figure in the flames, too. I'm absolutely positive that it was the hand of our God who spared him that day. We have no clue, I think, absolutely NO CLUE how closely He watches us. We think we know, but our minds can't comprehend it.

    I will be sharing this with my niece. She understands this fully as the wife of a deployed army man. A very close friend of hers lost her husband (special forces) this weekend. It's the SECOND of niece's friends to have lost their soldier husband. We have no other weapon here at home but the powerful weapon of prayer.

    (BTW, could you please pray for this sweet young wife? Her name is Ashley. My heart is breaking for her.)

  27. I don't know how I missed this the first time you posted it, but it is an amazing story of God's protection. I love how you felt that peace that passes all understanding when you acknowledged God would be with you.

  28. It's so good to know God answers prayers.

  29. Wow, a powerful and beautiful story. I do believe those angels do keep us safe, and those prayers are very important. BTW, I am on my way (as I do every week) to join some other moms in prayer for my daughter's high school.

  30. That is one amazing story and yes, I see the angel. Truly a miracle!

  31. Hi Dayle...I remember reading that when you first posted it but guess I didn't leave a comment at that time. Wow, that WAS a miracle for Stan. Great story. I looked and looked at the photo and finally, I was able to see the wings of the angel. Praise the Lord and thanks for sharing. Susan

  32. I was aghast ... then humbled ... and mostly overjoyed by your family's miracle. Thank you for sharing this link today!

  33. Dayle, there is no way he would be alive without the Lord's hand of protection! Thank the Lord. How scary that must've been. Thanking the Lord for His tender mercies in you and your family's lives.

  34. That is a powerful story indeed. So glad that Stan is okay to this day. Reminds me of an incident that took place on February 4, 2002. I taught kindergarten at a school and one of the other teachers had a son who was in my class. She went to get on the bus that afternoon and was calling to her son to come when a crane parked across the street toppled over and completely crushed the small bus she was in. She was killed instantly. It was such a shock and so heartbreaking. Just seeing the bus and knowing she was in there was too much to bear. I will never forget that day.

    Wishing you and your family continued blessings, Tammy

  35. Hi Dayle,
    What an amazing story.God was with you both that day.
    God Bless you and your family today and every day
    Barb from Australia

  36. A wonderful testimony of God's protection!

  37. Wow! Such a beautiful testimony of the power of prayer! Thank you for sharing again.


Dear Readers, I adore your company and your comments. If you ask questions here, I respond to them here, so please check back when you have a chance. Kind regards, Dayle