It was a good day.
Cheyane Caldwell, the former college football star turned firefighter was grinning from ear to ear. The date was July 24, 2007. It was the day he was promoted to Apparatus Operator. He would now drive the truck and operate the hook and 100 foot aerial ladder. It was a difficult job. It took a lot of skill. He had always wanted to do it and it felt good that his hard work had been recognized.
There in the station that day, he felt the warm glow of accomplishment. There were handshakes and pats on the back from his brothers in arms. Cake from the kitchen was passed around. The captain gave Cheyane a way-to-go fist to his shoulder and a smile. It was a good day.
That evening, the station alarm alerted the men to a commercial fire on First and Cooper and Cheyane jumped into action in his new role. He was ready. He was eager.
He was meant for this.
Everything was going according to plan. His fellow firefighters were distributed around the fire, all doing their jobs like a well-oiled machine. Cheyane climbed the ladder and stepped onto the top of the single floor building, chainsaw in hand, and began to try to find a spot to cut a hole for vertical ventilation.
Suddenly, the roof beneath him gave way with great ease—as if it was a wonder that it had held him at all. Cheyane crashed through at such speed that he bent the metal scaffolding beneath him into a 90-degree angle.
When he hit the ground, he landed in an earthly hell. The room was smoldering, the walls and ceiling were crackling and pieces were falling with fiery tracers. A wild, leaping fire and dense black smoke filled nearly every inch.
Cheyane’s training kicked in and he kept his face as low to the ground as possible, the only place where he might find breathable air. He could not stand to run because inch by inch as one elevates in a room on fire, the temperatures rise. At the top, near the ceiling, temperatures typically hit an unthinkable 1,500 to 2,000 degrees. Even with his face just inches from the ground, he felt his flesh begin to melt. He was beginning to bake to death.
That’s when two things that shouldn’t have happened, did. Shane was laying in the equivalent of an oven set on high. If he were at home in his kitchen and accidentally put his hand in something as hot as where his body lay, he would have pulled his hand away with a wide-eyed panic.
But Cheyane, who had given his life to Christ years before, felt something different come over him. There, inside that oven, he felt peace. He was sober and calm. He even had time to have a conversation with his Maker, “Whether I’m going home to my wife, Nohemi, or I’m going home to You, I’m OK with it. I’m ready.”
Up on the ceiling his captain’s mind was a whir as he tried to figure out what to do. He knew the Standard Operating Procedures like the back of his hand. That’s why it was such a shock that he got an abnormally strong feeling to put a charged hose into the hole and open it up. That was against all SOPs as the water will turn to scalding steam, fill the room and lay waste to any living thing. Cheyane would burn to death in mere seconds. But the captain had an overwhelming sense to do exactly that.
He took the hose and put it in the hole and fired away. It turned to steam with an earsplitting whoosh—adding more sound to the terrible cacophony. But because of the shaft of air that Cheyane had caused when he fell through the ceiling, the steam shot up through the hole leaving some of the water to cascade down. Large water drops covered Cheyane where he lay.
It was a glorious sight: the raging fire all around and the captive firefighter lying beneath a bolt of light and being doused by heaven-sent rain.
It took seven minutes for his brothers to fight their way in. As they carried Cheyane away from the fire, his mind was a jumble of praise and amazement. You chose to save me, God, I would have come home to You, but You chose to save me. You must have something for me to do here.
Yes, He did.
In the days that followed, his captain visited Cheyane in the hospital as often as he could. He saw Cheyane’s courage, he witnessed his peace, he saw something in his eyes he had never noticed in other men’s eyes. He was moved that God had potentially saved Cheyane’s life through him. Finally, he had to have Cheyane’s God. There at bedside, Cheyane led his captain to Christ.
Today, Cheyane is still a firefighter, but when he can he takes trips into Mexico to provide training and tips to Mexican firefighters who sometimes fight with grit and determination and not much else. Of course along the way, he tells his story—to everyone.
In a gathering of 216 firefighters, 212 gave their lives to Christ. At an orphanage, all the kids accepted Jesus and so did the orphanage’s nun. Trip after trip, it’s always the same. As he stands there in the flesh telling his story, people can’t help but respond to the miracle of God providing a burning man his own personal rain cloud.
It was just a typical fire that, in the end, wasn’t typical at all. God had designated it to bring souls to Him and Cheyane was designated to do the bringing.
He was indeed meant for this.