Boston Firefighter: God’s got my back

Suzette Standring
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(Special thanks to Bill Noonan for allowing the use of his photos of January 12, 2016 fire.

Today when Boston firefighter Larry Smith, a 27-year veteran, rushes into burning buildings, his courage is fueled by faith. Twenty-two years ago he was blinded in a raging house fire. During that ordeal he discovered only God could rescue him.

“Back then I’d been a firefighter for five years.  I had it all.  I was single and dating, I made a good living, had a great apartment in Boston. Then I lost my eyesight and none of it did me any good,” said Smith who lives in Randolph with his wife Tarsha and their 11-year-old daughter, Olivia.

The African-American firefighter, 51, recalls the 1993 night fire in Jamaica Plain where children were reported trapped on the second floor Wearing a breathing apparatus he entered a room black with smoke and flames, and crawled along the floor looking for survivors. Suddenly a backdraft shot temperatures to 1,200 degrees.  His 45-minute air supply ran out, and he pulled his mask off. Immediately his eyes were scorched by the heat and he went blind.  Smith crawled toward the sound of other firefighters screaming his name and was pulled to safety.

In the emergency room, Smith was treated for burns but his blindness left the doctors uncertain.  His sight might return over time, or possibly, the damage could be permanent. Smith had no choice but to wait it out. “I cried every day alone in my apartment. All the things I had – a boat, a motorcycle, a car – were no use to me.  I couldn’t even see the phone to call my mother.”

Every day he prayed and one verse, Jeremiah 29:11 sustained him then and remains a favorite scripture to this day: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

After four weeks, his sight slowly returned, and he returned to faith. That was twenty-two years ago, and Larry Smith and his family remain members of the Boston Church of Christ, which worships in Randolph, using space at Temple Beth Am.

Like all firefighters, Smith rushes into danger.  “You don’t know what to expect. When a mom is screaming, ‘My kids are up there!’ you can’t think. You act.”

On January 12 during a two-alarm fire in Mattapan, Smith and other firefighters swung axes on a pitched roof of a three-story building as fires raged below.

1-12-16 photo by Bill Noonan

1-12-16 photo by Bill Noonan

Does fear shadow him from his 1993 trauma?

“Absolutely not.  I rely on two things.  My training as a firefighter is 10% and  90% is my faith in God to protect me.  I’m at the mercy of God.  If my number’s up, it’s up, but I know God’s got my back no matter what.”