Florida first responder sees career as spiritual calling

Even as a child, Tommy Neiman was fascinated with the lights and sirens of emergency vehicles. He now uses his career as a first responder to minister to others. SUBMITTED PHOTO

FORT PIERCE, Fla. (BP)—For Tommy Neiman, an award-winning firefighter and paramedic, the theme for his vocational calling has become about challenging first responders to be believers, and believers to be first responders.

Neiman described being fascinated with the lights and sirens of emergency vehicles as he was growing up. His curiosity would soon lead him to this spiritual calling.

“I remember following firetrucks and any vehicle with lights and sirens going as best as I could to find out where they were going,” Neiman said. “That intrigue led to me going into that kind of work full-time after college. I really felt that God’s calling in my life was to see the Lord work through my responses, and He certainly gives us the desires of our hearts.

“God is still using me in a very powerful, spiritual way to share His Word and to encourage others, even despite the tragedies and the emergencies that they’re going through.”

Although no longer working full time “on the line” as a firefighter and paramedic, Neiman still occasionally responds to calls if needed and helps with the training division of the St. Lucie County Fire Department.

Additionally, he has been ministering as a chaplain since his ordination in 1997 and currently serves as a staff associate at the South Beach Campus of Westside Church in Fort Pierce, Fla.

His decorated 30-year career includes being named 2003 Firefighter of the Year in Florida and doing chaplaincy ministry at Ground Zero in the wake of 9/11.

Neiman explained the numerous emergency calls throughout his career have provided clarity that spiritual opportunities could happen at any time.

One example came when an emergency call resulted in Neiman visiting the house next door to his childhood home.

As his old neighbor was dying of cancer, Neiman would have the chance to pray with and minister to this neighbor, with whom he’d had a negative relationship years before.

“[This emergency call] kind of made me look at my career in a new light in seeing that any call I go on, I didn’t want to take for granted and just go through the call,” Neiman said.

“I would always really have a consciousness that God could be doing something or I could be used some way spiritually on the call.

“It just seems like a lot of calls that I had you could just clearly see God’s presence on the scenes in one way or another or His divine appointments by the impact that it had.”

This realization would launch Neiman into his next stage of ministry as a writer. In 2000, Neiman compiled several noteworthy emergency calls from his career into a book titled “Sirens for the Cross.”

The book has since been updated several times. The latest version, published in 2019, features more than 15 stories from Neiman’s career.

The book’s website features endorsements from former SBC presidents Adrian Rogers (former pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis), Jack Graham (senior pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church near Dallas) as well as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and famous Southern Baptist cartoonist Joe McKeever.

Neiman eventually started his own ministry organization based around encouraging first responders also titled “Sirens for the Cross.” He has spoken at more than 400 churches, often on nights when the church would be recognizing the first responders in their congregation.

His latest project is a children’s academic workbook titled “Rookie Rescuer: Learning about God and ‘First Responder’ work through real calls!”

The fill-in-the-blank book is designed for second- to sixth-grade students. Neiman hopes it can be used to help them learn about and be inspired by first responding to work like he was as a child.

“I could take children on the scenes with me and not only share with them those spiritual truths and encouragement but also give them practical information and knowledge about actual first-responder work,” Neiman said.

Through the “Sirens for the Cross” ministry, Neiman developed the theme of challenging first responders to be believers, and believers to be first responders.

Much like a first responder should be sensitive to spiritual opportunities on the scenes they respond to, all Christians should be sensitive to spiritual opportunities which may be around them each day.

“I really felt like God had placed me in this role and because He fulfilled my desire to be a career first responder, then I would serve Him through it,” he said.

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Staff Writer
Timothy Cockes
Baptist Press
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