Jason Sautel: Finding Faith in the Fire (Part 1)

Jason Sautel: Finding Faith in the Fire (Part 1)

John FarrellBy John Farrell14 Minutes

John Farrell: What was the reason behind writing The Rescuer?

Jason Sautel: The reason I wrote The Rescuer was because I wanted to reach out to people on a larger scale. I wanted it to get into the hands of people that God wanted it in and that needed to hear the message.

There are a lot of hurt, broken, and sad people out there that feel like they can’t connect with God. I wanted to show people that side of me, but I also wanted to show Christians what it was like to be a firefighter and how hard it is for first responders and all the struggles we go through. Because I think we can all relate with the struggles that I went through, but at the level that they’re at right now. For example, if someone is working at a magazine writing articles, there’s still struggles in their life. There’s still a lot of stuff going on, but I wanted them to see it from a view that they’ve never seen before. Kind of like an extreme view to realize we all hurt. We all have pain, and we all need Christ in our life.

So, there’s multiple reasons why I wrote it, but most importantly was to reach the unsaved and also motivate the Christian to get out there and just love on people.

JF: Is that the main message you want readers to take from it?

Jason: The central theme there and in all things I do is to let people know Jesus is all we need. We need him. The central theme of that book was that’s what was missing. He was what was missing in my life. That was the emptiness I was feeling. The general theme is to try to redirect everyone back to why we so desperately need Christ Jesus in our lives.

JF: Why is that theme so important in today’s world?

Jason: This has been an unprecedented year with COVID and with social unrest and with all the stuff that is going on. Then out here in California, we had unprecedented times with all the fires that have been going on. The theme that I’m seeing when I connect with folks online or in person is there’s just a heaviness. There’s a darkness. There’s almost like a feeling of hopelessness and I want to kind of lovingly shake the Christians and be like, “Listen, we got hope, hang onto it.” Repoint them over to the hope that we have in Christ Jesus. Then for the non-believer, to lovingly show them what it is that is missing in their life, especially at this time. Not having Christ and then trying to figure out all the nonsense that’s making us feel even worse is really tough.

I think in this time that we’re going through right now, the message just really resonates with people.

JF: What did you learn about yourself while writing the book?

Jason: I could go on forever with that question because it’s such a good question, but I’ll keep it short.

Number one, what I learned is how easy it is to preach and teach how hard it is to follow sometimes what you’re preaching and teaching. This means we must hang onto His hope and lean into His strength.

His unending love is there for us, but then I start writing and my past feelings sometimes come up and suddenly, I become unmotivated. I didn’t want to write, and there’s a lot of struggles. It made me realize, “Wow, Jason needs to practice what he’s preaching a little more.”

I would pull away and pray. I’d have people come around me and go to the Scriptures, and I’d let the Holy Spirit guide me properly to pull me away from those spiritual attacks that are happening. It really taught me that spiritual attacks are real because sometimes I lean a little into the infallible Word and lean on God’s infallible Word. And sometimes I don’t give enough recognition to the Holy Spirit, which was wrong.

During the writing of this book, just opening my eyes to what the Holy Spirit is doing, can do, and will do within my life was a huge lesson that I learned from it.

JF: Talking about your past, what led you to become a firefighter? Was it an aspiration you had from when you were a little child or was it something else that led you down that path?

Jason: Growing up in a faithless and abusive home, and my mom living 500 miles away, I didn’t grow up with the love that most children have, but I always knew right from wrong. I always wanted to help other people because even though I was in rough situations growing up, it hurt me to see other people hurting.

When I dropped out of school in the 10th grade, I worked for the California Conservation Corps, which is guys who go out and cut trails in national parks and pick up garbage on the side of the freeway. We were at a wild land fire here in California, and our job was to help feed the firefighters as they came in from the fire lines. I was talking to a fireman, and I thought, ‘Being a firefighter would be a great job.’ So, I asked him, “What do you have to do to become a firefighter?” He said, “You need a high school diploma.” I immediately thought, ‘Well, thanks, that job’s not there.’

I went back and I got my high school diploma by taking the proficiency exam, which is like a GED. I applied for the California Department of Forestry. I knew the driving factor was to help people. As a young man, the adrenaline rush of fighting fire – let’s be real, it’s a cool job as a kid when you’re looking at it.

Once I got a piece of it as a forestry firefighter in a smaller department than Oakland, just helping people made me realize I wanted to keep going at this. I progressed on into paramedic school, and then joined the Oakland fire department thereafter.

JF: The first 11 chapters in The Rescuer are rather dark, but the later chapters are more inspirational and share a more redemptive message. In your book, you talk a lot about the different pivotal moments in your life and once such moment was a near-death experience you had while fighting a fire. What happened during that fire to have such an impact on your life, and what did that experience help you realize about your own life?

Jason: The majority of people that come through say that it was a really hard read internally for the first chapters that I felt the darkness. The reason I did that is because it was real. I wanted to keep my experience real. If I change it and put glimpses of hope in this, then I’m changing it for the Hollywood effect. And there was no Hollywood effect in there.

I did not have any hope in that time. I wanted people to see how dark it was, how bad it was, and what it’s like to be a faithless man traveling your way through this world. That is the reason it was there – that’s reality.

A lot of Christians will call it edgy, but I’m like, “Sorry, Christian.” This isn’t edgy, this is real life for a lot of non-believers, and I wanted Christians a peek in that to see that, “Wow, I forgot what the darkness was or maybe I never lived in it because I grew up in a Christian home, and I came to Christ at a young age. I had the pain, the suffering, the loss, and all that, but I never walked without Jesus.”

I wanted people to see what that was like, so they can see how I maybe need to try harder to reach out to these people. That’s why I did that.

Now, to go into the near-death experience. What happened was I was inside of a fire, and it was back in the days before everything was digital. We actually had things called photo shops. We were in there, and as we were fighting fire I didn’t realize I went in alone. It was pitch black, super hot. The chemicals that they used for the photo processing were melting to the plastic containers, and I was crawling through them.

I was 50 feet into the building when all of a sudden it got hot enough in there that everything lit on fire, and I could not go back to the front door to get out of the building. There were flames from floor to ceiling, which I would have died if I climbed through that. I was in a brick building, and as a firefighter, you’re trained to always get out no matter what. Well, I couldn’t even claw or use my axe to break my way out of the building because it was a brick building. So, I figured this was it.

My options were curl up and hope that people were going to come get me or die. I had no other options. And the feeling I had was I don’t want to die. It wasn’t like a huge revelation of my life flashing before my eyes, but I realized I don’t want to die alone because there’s major consequences of this.

The light started to click at that moment because just prior to this fire I had met a girl who told me about Jesus. She took me to church. I heard the full gospel message from a pastor at church, and I went out to lunch with him. So, here I am laying in this fire and it wasn’t like I was thinking about all those conversations, but all I could think was there was this overwhelming feeling that if you die here, it’s going to be really bad in more than just the pain aspect.

That’s when the conversion within me started to become real because the guys came in and they rescued me. And so I don’t take glory away from any firefighters who are sitting in wheelchairs right now completely burnt, at the time, yes, I thought I was done. Did I get a few burns? Yes. Looking back upon it and the guys who saved me, it wasn’t as horrible of a situation as I thought it was, but it could have been.

Order your copy of The Rescuer: One Firefighter’s Story of Courage, Darkness, and the Relentless Love That Saved Him by Jason Sautel with D. R. Jacobsen