by Deanna Kim Bassett
It was a beautiful day in Sacramento, California. My dad was playing golf with my uncles, and I was celebrating my upcoming birthday with the rest of my family by going out for ice cream. That lazy, late September weekend was interrupted by a horrific, unprecedented event. A fighter jet leaving the executive airport across the street crashed into the ice cream parlor. My family and I were able to crawl and climb to safety through the fire and debris. Not everyone was so fortunate.
As my brothers and I exited the building, we heard sirens. Firefighters ran inside to rescue people who could not escape on their own. It blew my mind to see large, static picture windows broken out and instantly transformed into doors. I gained some perspective talking to others with relatively minor injuries and seeing firefighters carry out unconscious people on stretchers. From that day forward, I wanted to be a firefighter.
But how? It was the early 1970s and none of the firefighters looked like me. I was a girl, and small in stature. The men at the scene of the plane crash were large and skilled. They knew what to do for any type of bodily injury. Unlike me, they weren’t afraid of blood, confined spaces and ladder climbing. Although I kept my childhood dream close to my heart, being a firefighter didn’t seem to be in the cards for my lifetime.
I went to college and became an accountant. My husband and I met in our 20s, moved to the Midwest and started a family. We raised our boys in a Minneapolis suburb. Then one summer evening just before my 53rd birthday, we were enjoying a neighborhood block party with our youngest son, a rising high school senior, when we were interrupted by a beautiful sight. A fire engine pulled into our neighborhood, and a female lieutenant climbed out. Her name was Becky.
I told her about my childhood dream of becoming a firefighter, and she told me it was possible. She let me don her turnout gear. She said people like me could be trained to be part-time firefighters, serving evenings and weekends. But what about my fears? The fire department teams use everyone’s strengths, Becky told me. She encouraged me to apply. I did, and I was hired! .
ONLY THE BEGINNING
Training was difficult, but not impossible. With God by my side, I could do anything. I could hoist a ladder and climb it. I could crawl through small dark spaces even when I thought I was stuck. I could talk myself through the priorities of first aid, and not panic about blood. I worked with the daily reminder to fear only God.
One of my first emergency response calls involved a woman in her 90s who was having a hard time breathing at home. While we took her vital signs, she told us about her morning. Then, mid-sentence, she began to tremble and went into full cardiac arrest. We quickly laid her on the floor, set up the automated external defibrillator, delivered one shock, and she began talking to us again. That was the beginning of my transition out of the world of accounting. I knew that the fruits of my accounting work benefitted large numbers of people in the business-to-business world.
But my soul was being called to a person-to-person, mano-a-mano, hand-to-hand world. Firefighting was only the beginning. This person-to-person interaction was part of a call I heard from God, beginning with the birth of my children. By the time my oldest son turned 9, my personal spiritual goals no longer satisfied my appetite for God. Midway through a Bible series called Alpha, it hit me: I was meant to go to seminary. I enrolled in my first class, and began taking one class a semester.
Deanna Kim Bassett is a diversity and inclusion leader, a retired Certified Public Accountant, a partduty firefighter in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and a graduate (M.Div. 2019) of Luther Seminary.
This article is excerpted from the July/August 2020 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.
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