Granite Mountain Hotshot Wade Parker Placed God First
The weekend of Oct. 20, Only the Brave*, a movie about the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who perished in the Yarnell Hills Fire in June 2013, debuted in theaters. In September of 2013, AG News (now PE News) shared a story about Wade Parker, one of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who died fighting the fire. He attended Chino Valley Word of Life (Assembly of God). Here is his story.
CAN ONE YOUNG HOTSHOT IMPACT THE WORLD FOR CHRIST?
Sweat-stained and coated in a layer of black powdery dirt from their exertions, Wade Parker, 22, and his friends Clayton and Brendan and several other elite firefighters sat talking on the side of a New Mexico mountain, looking across miles and miles of sun-baked land. As often was the case, they were talking about God. As the discussion closed, Wade and Clayton led Brendan to Christ . . . .
From the time Wade Parker was a young boy, his role model, hero, and father, Danny, would tell him, "Wade, not everyone has the opportunity to change the world, but everyone gets the opportunity to change their world (the people around them)."
Being young and energetic, young Wade was all about giving 110 percent. Gifted athletically, his desire and effort on the playing field was never questioned. He led by example and as many have said about him, he didn't demand respect, he earned it.
A four-year letterman in baseball, Parker led his Chino Valley (Arizona) High School baseball team to state his final two years of high school. He then was given a scholarship to play baseball at Lamar (Colorado) Community College (LCC), a school known for producing quality players.
"Wade was an intense guy who worked hard and gave everything he had every day," says LCC Head Baseball Coach Scott Crampton, "He was a young man coaches like to be around."
But as much as he gave of himself physically to sports, when it came to worshipping God and doing his best to live for Him, he was just as committed.
"Even as a very young boy, Wade would close his eyes and lift his hands, worshipping God, singing at the top of his lungs," Danny recalls.
An admitted "momma's boy" who loved hugging his mother, Michelle, and was proud of it, Wade was unusual. He not only openly expressed his love for his family, he possessed a constant and infectious smile, and he noticed those experiencing problems around him — and did something about it.
He stepped in when a younger boy was being bullied on the school bus, putting an end to the bullying and walking the boy home from his bus stop. He took all his birthday money and spent it on a classmate whose clothes were ragged and shoes were worn out. Danny and Michelle also sent Wade four Bibles during his year at LCC as he kept giving his away to teammates.
Chuckling, Danny adds that Wade also invited friends home — not just for supper, but to live!
"There were those kids whose parents were going through a separation or divorce and having a really rough time," Danny says. "Wade would talk to us and over the years we had several kids live with us for months at a time — they became a part of our family."
Chris Hunter, a former high school teacher of Wade's, says she recalls how Wade, as a senior, had come to her and told her how he wanted to pray that all his friends would come to know God.
"I told him, you're thinking too small, Wade," Hunter says. Wade said he would pray the whole class of 2009 and even all of Chino Valley High School would believe in the Lord. Hunter's response: "That's really nice, Wade, you should be doing that. But for who you are, Wade Parker, that's just too small."
Hunter remembers the moment the light came on in Wade's eyes as he realized the truth of her prophetic words. "He said, 'Okay, this is what I pray, that I have an impact on the world with the message of Jesus Christ.'"
After playing college ball for a year, Wade chose to follow his real passion — to become a firefighter like his dad. Not settling for the ordinary, Wade worked hard to be selected to an elite firefighting team. He made the team, and in 2012 he was named rookie of the year.
For over a year, Wade had been sharing Christ with his friends on his Granite Mountain Hotshots firefighting crew as they traveled across the West working the frontlines in fighting some of the fiercest and mostly uncontained fires. Some of the team had already made decisions for Christ — including his friend Brendan "Donut" McDonough on the side of that mountain in New Mexico — others, Wade had confided in his pastor, Todd League of Chino Valley Word of Life (Assembly of God), were just so close to accepting Christ.
But now, there was no more time. While working the Yarnell (Arizona) Hill Fire, a sudden shift in the wind had sent the uncontrolled fire raging in a new and unexpected direction, quickly blocking the crew's escape route. Wade and the rest of his Hotshots crew were trapped, with no way out.
It was eerie. Desolate. Quiet except for the determined crunching of booted feet walking across the scarred, burned hills southwest of Yarnell, Arizona. Danny Parker was here to get his son.
A 20-year veteran and captain paramedic in the Chino Valley Fire District, Danny received a call at the station that fateful 30th of June. A friend from the Prescott (Arizona) Fire Department, where the Granite Mountain Hotshots were based out of, was calling to let him know that they had lost radio contact with Wade's Hotshots team.
"I had heard what was going on down there as it was happening, and I had a check in my spirit that it was going to be a bad outcome," Danny says. "My friend called me and told me not to panic, but they had lost radio contact with the team . . . ," Danny pauses, his voice thickening with emotion, "every muscle went weak and I went straight to the floor."
As he lay on the floor, Danny prayed earnestly for the boys and that God would surround the families with comfort and peace, but that through it all, God's will would be done.
Now, as a member of the recovery team, Danny made his way across the desolate hills to reach his son and the other 18 flagged-draped bodies. When he arrived, he found the emergency shelters the team had deployed to protect themselves from the fire — individual cocoons made of layers of aluminum, Kevlar, and insulation — were all totally incinerated.
Yet, being well versed in fires and how fear and flames can cause weak minds to break, he noted how tightly the 19 bodies were positioned next to each other. None of them had attempted to flee in an "every-man-for-himself" escape from the flames, which has occurred in other life-taking fires.
"It doesn't take the hurt or the loss away, but these men died for the man on their left and the man on their right. Each one gave their lives for each other and that speaks volumes to what kind of crew they were," says Danny, who is also doing his best to keep in touch with Brendan McDonough, who was the Hotshots team lookout and lone survivor that tragic day.
Pastor League says he had just finished pre-marital counseling with Wade and his fiancé, Alicia, the week before Wade left to fight the Yarnell Hill Fire. He says Wade desperately wanted to be a good husband, but he also took time to talk about reaching his Hotshots team members for Christ.
"Wade told me in our last session that there were several guys that were close to accepting the Lord," Leagues says, "and I truly believe God allowed Wade to be there in those last moments for those boys!"
League says that he estimates more than 1,000 people attended Wade's funeral and several of Wade's friends have either made first-time commitments or rededicated their lives to Christ directly because of Wade's death. Still fighting tears when talking about Wade, League says that now, no matter where he goes in town, people know him as Wade's pastor.
"Countless conversations have been opened up with people I don't even know," League says. "In that way, Wade's legacy lives on."
In Lamar, Coach Crampton says when the community learned of Wade's death, they were shocked. In his relatively short time there, Wade had made an impact upon the community and college. To honor him and the sacrifice he made, they created and named a baseball scholarship after him.
"Wade's character, on and off the field, was just off the chart," Crampton states. "He was a strong Christian, and that came across every day. I know he influenced several other baseball players with their decision of faith. Just overall, he was an outstanding young man."
For Danny and Michelle, their three remaining children — Amber (31), Carrie (30) and DJ (18) — and Wade's fiancé, Alicia, the pain of loss is still fresh. Tears are not uncommon. But Danny says that early on, he couldn't understand that even though there was pain, he felt a peace and comfort that made no sense.
"Then the Lord reminded me of my prayer — that the families would be surrounded with peace and comfort," Danny says. "And He did surround us. We've felt so cradled in the arms of the Lord since this happened. It's indescribable. It doesn't mean we're not hurting," he adds, voice cracking, "but He is with us in that hurt."
Yet, even though the death of the Hotshots team made world news, the question remains: Was Wade's desire to impact the world with the message of Jesus Christ to be fulfilled?
While in college, Wade, who was teaching himself guitar so he could one day be a worship leader, sent home a poem he felt the Lord had given him that he wanted to turn into a song. Two lines of the poem seem particularly poignant:
"…Till the end of my days I will speak your name into the world. So I lay my life down at your feet, the everlasting King."
At his funeral, two of Wade's cousins put his poem to music and performed the song. The poem was also read at the crew's memorial service held in Prescott. Their memorial was attended by thousands of firefighters and dignitaries, including speakers Vice President Joe Biden and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.
And then, of course, there is Danny.
"I don't mind talking about my son," he says with conviction. "I will tell the world about my son and God in his life, and I will never turn down the opportunity to tell the world about Wade and the Lord Jesus Christ."
So perhaps, Wade's true desire is already on its way to being fulfilled after all.
"The times I feel Wade's presence the most is when I'm worshipping the Lord," Danny says, his eyes closing as tears form again, "because Wade loved to worship. And the most awesome thing about that is getting to be in the presence of the Lord and feel my son too."
*Editor’s note: No endorsement of the movie is implied or intended.