60: Miracle at Dawn

60: Miracle at Dawn

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen

Miracle at Dawn

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

~John 15:13

As my daughter and I said our goodnight prayers on February 20, 1997, we ended it with “God, please keep your hand on Daddy tonight.” It was not an uncommon prayer for us. With my husband a captain in the Houston Fire Department, this simple prayer was always part of our bedtime ritual whenever Stan was on duty. We crawled into bed and fell asleep.

About half past five the next morning, I woke to the ringing of the telephone. Who is calling me at such an early hour? I hurried to silence it.

“Mrs. Shockley?” The voice was a man’s.


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

“Yes, sir,” I said, my voice uncertain.

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

Suddenly, my heart raced.

“Stan’s been involved in an accident. We’ve got him at Hermann Hospital right now…”

I could hardly breathe. “What kind of accident?” I managed to ask.

“Well,” the chief said, “Stan and his crew were just arriving on the scene of a church fire, when part of the church’s structure collapsed onto the cab of the pumper.”

“Collapsed? Were they in the pumper?”

“Yes, ma’am, I’m afraid they were. Nobody but Stan was hurt. We believe he’s going to be okay,” Chief Holleman said, “but I didn’t want you to hear it on the news. They’ve got him in the trauma unit at Hermann right now, checking him out.”

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

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

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

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

“Thanks for calling.” I was practically hanging from the telephone. I fell into a chair in the darkened kitchen, numb. Dear God, I pleaded, please let my husband be okay.

Most of Stan’s years in the department have been spent in the heart of Houston’s downtown. He’s witnessed a multitude of hair-raising sights, and received a number of awards for heroic lifesaving efforts. He’s even had some close calls, but never had he required hospitalization. The phone call from Chief Holleman was the call all families of firefighters fear.

As I stumbled from the kitchen, the phone rang again. An official from Hermann Hospital was making the customary call, informing me my husband was in the trauma center. Upon inquiry, I was told Stan had lost a lot of blood and had been knocked unconscious for a “significant” amount of time, but the fact that he was able to recite his name and address was a “good” sign.

In minutes, Chief Holleman called again. He was sending a car to take Anna and me to the hospital.

The dreaded moment had arrived. I had to tell my daughter, then ten, that her father—her buddy—had been injured. She lay sleeping peacefully on my bed.

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

She cracked one eye.

“Daddy’s been hurt at work and we have to go to the hospital and see him.”

Her eyes flew open. “What happened, Mom?”

Choking back sobs, I told her all I knew. We held each other and prayed together. “No matter what we have to face today, Anna,” I told her, “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 to my daughter.

She squeezed my hand, her eyes shut tight, a thin stream of tears trickling down her cheeks.

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

Arriving at the emergency entrance, Houston’s fire chief and Chief Holleman were there to meet us. We hurried inside toward the trauma center. “I need to warn you,” the chief said. “Stan looks pretty bad.”

The trauma center buzzed with hospital staff and a host of men and women from the fire department. When I entered the room, I was surrounded by HFD personnel, all offering their sympathies and wanting to help in any way. Never have I felt more among friends than I did that morning. A brother had been injured, and the feeling of camaraderie was powerful.

In the middle of the activity, I saw my husband propped up on a gurney, a pallid, bloody mess. A surgeon stood behind him, stitching up a large gash in the top of his head. It was not a sight for the weak. Be strong, I told myself, as I inched forward.

When my eyes met Stan’s, volumes of unspoken words passed between us. It was a moment frozen in time. A moment full of the deepest emotions imaginable. I clutched his bloody hand and whispered, “I love you so much.”

The two-alarm fire and my husband’s injuries were the morning’s top news stories. Stan’s crew was the first to arrive on the scene of the pre-dawn fire at the abandoned Good Hope Baptist Church. As the driver pulled around the corner to catch a plug, Stan reached for the microphone to make his initial report. That’s when part of the church’s front structure came crashing down onto the roof of the cab, directly above the passenger seat, where my husband sat. The last thing Stan recalled was leaning forward to steady the microphone.

The collective weight and force of the falling structure was later estimated at about 3,000 pounds. So great was the weight it blew out all of the tires on the pumper, and made a horrific V-shaped dent just above the passenger seat. Had Stan been sitting upright, the blow would probably have killed him instantly, or left him with severe spinal injuries.

Stan was knocked unconscious and quickly began losing blood. His dedicated crew and fellow firefighters worked feverishly to free him from the wreckage. Chief Raney, one of the district chiefs who helped pull Stan out of the truck, later told me that when he saw Stan’s face, he felt sure he was not going to survive. In Raney’s words, “I’ve seen death, Mrs. Shockley, and Stan had the look of death on his face.”

But, thank God, he did survive. Outside of twenty-five stitches in the top of his head, and the expected aches and pains from such a severe blow, Stan was okay.

Shortly after his release from the hospital, we drove to the shop where the pumper had been towed. As we crawled up and surveyed the tangled wreckage on the passenger’s side where Stan had sat, he and I just looked at each other in a wide-eyed stare. No question about it, a real miracle had occurred.

~Dayle Allen Shockley

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