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Florida Church Honors First Responders

Florida Church Honors First Responders
Pastor Felix Fernandez (at the podium) and an elder of South Kendall Community Church present plaques to honor the work of their congregation members at the Surfside condo collapse.

On Sept. 12, South Kendall Community Church in Miami, Fla., took the opportunity to acknowledge first responders in their church who were involved in the search and rescue after the Surfside condo building collapse that happened in June. The mission was only recently completed. 

The 12-story building partially collapsed killing 98 people and first responders were on the site for about one month after the collapse as they went through the rubble. Felix Fernandez, the pastor at South Kendall Community Church, said the collapse had a huge impact on the community and church.

Michael Knott attends South Kendall Community Church and has been a firefighter medic for 21 years. For the Surfside search and rescue, his role was to operate search cameras, listening devices, map plotting, and GPS navigation over large search areas to help locate people. Knott was one of the people recognized in the September worship service. He said he appreciated the gesture.  

The church honored two firefighters, two police officers, and a photojournalist who covered the story of the Surfside collapse for a local news outlet. Ferndez said, “It was an incredible collaboration—when you look at the group, you see the impact our church was having on the city.”  

Each person was presented with a personalized plaque with their name on it that said “Rescue and Recovery Mission at Surfside, Florida, June 24, 2021. ‘Jesus Christ Our Cornerstone.’—Ephesians 2:20.” One firefighter, who was on duty Sept. 12, was unable to attend, so their mother was present to accept the plaque.

The church’s worship committee planned this presentation because “it was a great opportunity for our church community to know the impact that we as a church are having in our city,” Fernandez said. 

“It felt like it would only be appropriate to recognize those individuals because they were there 24/7 for weeks on end, and a lot of them didn’t get to come home and sleep in their homes and in their beds, so it was a great sacrifice on the part of these individuals to be able to do this for our community and the families that were impacted by this great tragedy.”

Knott said connecting with other believers helped him through the work. “What kept me from breaking down at the (Surfside) site was my fellow Christians. We would get together before our shift and have a prayer; we even started a Surfside prayer chat that we still use today to keep in touch with each other.”  

Fernandez said the timing of the recognition, coming the day after the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and the Pentagon, wasn’t a coincidence. At that time, the important, often dangerous work done by first responders became more visible to many Americans. Fernandez said, when the worship committee looked at the calendar “in light of the recovery mission being completed at Surfside,” choosing that weekend seemed appropriate. 

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