Updated: Jun 8, 2020
The other day I read a horrible story in the news that woke me up and broke me down.
In the early morning hours of August 24th, Debra Stevens was delivering newspapers on her route in Fort Smith, Arkansas, just the same as she's done for over two decades.
She decided to take a shortcut through a parking lot of an apartment building when she was suddenly hit with floodwater.
At 4:38 a.m. she made a call to 911. At 4:41 a.m. first responders were dispatched.
“Please help me. I don’t want to die.”
When 5:00 a.m. came the line went quiet. At 5:02 a.m. they found her vehicle behind a group of trees. A rescue boat was launched at 5:16 a.m., but because of the intensity of the water, wasn't able to reach Stevens' vehicle until 5:58 a.m.
"When first responders were finally able to reach Mrs. Stevens and extract her from the vehicle, she had tragically succumbed to drowning," according to the Fort Stevens Police Department.
This is what happened in the final 22 minutes of Debra's life.
When 911 dispatcher, Donna Reneau, picked up the phone to a terrified Debra Stevens, she was gearing up to head home after her final shift. Two weeks prior she had put in her two week notice to the job she'd had for five years. Earlier this year in February, she had won Fire Dispatcher of the Year. She was a certified dispatch trainer for new hires. Donna was very good at her job.
Today was her last day.
This type of call should've been right in Reneau's wheelhouse. She's been described as an employee who has saved countless lives, and Debra's life desperately needed saving that early August morning.
When Donna picked up the phone, the person that Stevens needed wasn't the person that answered.
“I’m sorry ma’am, I didn’t see it!” Debra says at one point about the water.
“I don’t see how you didn’t see it. You had to go right over it,” Donna responds.
Throughout the duration of the call, Stevens continually said that she didn't want to die, that she didn't know how to swim, that she didn't see the floodwaters, and begged for help. She said the water was in the vehicle and up to her chest. Reneau met her cries with annoyance, repeatedly told her to calm down and at one point told her that she needed to shut up.
Now, dispatchers are told to remain calm and to also tell the caller to remain calm, as they can't help if they can't understand them. Over her five years as a dispatcher, it's likely she's had her fair share of the types of calls that she figured this was. People exaggerating about the emergency they're experiencing. But Debra wasn't exaggerating, she needed help and needed help then and there.
Debra mentioned how she's worried about the water damage her new phone will accumulate and that she'll get cut off, Reneau scolds her for worrying about her phone at a time like this. And throughout her hysteria, she continued to apologize to Donna for her current state, worried that she was being rude and would thank her for helping.
“Thank you for being there for me, Miss Donna,” she even said at one point.
As she was crying, Debra asked Donna to pray with her. "You go ahead and start off the prayer," she answered. "Please help and get me out of this water, dear Father," Debra prayed through tears.
After trying to describe to the rescuers the location of Debra's vehicle, Donna soon begin to realize how serious of a situation this was.
"Oh my god, my car is starting to move."
"OK, listen to me, I know," Donna replies. "I'm trying to get you help. I know you're scared. Just hold on for me..."
"I'm going to die!" Debra was then screaming that she couldn't breathe.
"Miss Debbie, you're breathing just fine because you are screaming at me. So, calm down. I know you're scared. Hold on for me."
"Miss Debbie? Miss Debbie?"
"Oh my God. She sounds like she's under water now."
How will you answer the call?
All around us every single day are people who desperately need saving. They need what you have. The phones are ringing off the hook from the lost and the wandering.
Debra Stevens is the exact person that Donna was trained for.
The unfortunate reality of this call is that Donna was not aware of the severity of the situation and Debra never saw the floodwaters. But by the end of that 22 minute call, it was too late for the both of them.
"Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction." - 2 Timothy 4:2
Donna: "This will teach you next time don't drive in the water"
This was Donna's last day. Maybe she was excited to finally get home. Maybe she was tired of her job. Maybe something happened the previous day that was especially difficult for her. Or maybe she had gotten too many calls of people crying into the phone about an emergency that turned out to be nothing.
This was also Debra's last day.
You can't pick and choose whose situations are an emergency and whose situations aren't. If they haven't accepted Him, their situation is an emergency. They might not have tomorrow, you might not have tomorrow, you may not get another chance. Leave no stone unturned, no conversation left unsaid, no call left un-dialed.
At one point Debra tells Donna that she can see people watching her from their balconies.
“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few." Matthew 9:37
Donna replies by telling her that these people have called in about her, but that "they're not going to get themselves in danger because you put yourself in danger."
Charles Spurgeon gives us a visceral look at helping the lost. "If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for."
The lost are unaware of the danger they're in. The found are unaware of the crisis of the lost. While terrified, Stevens asks Reneau if the rescuers can get her home so she can make sure her dogs are okay. And that she needed to finish her route.
She never got to do either.
So... on your worst day, on your best day, on your hardest day, your busiest day, your longest day, your easiest day, and on your last day... answer the call. Pick up the phone. Look up. Open your eyes. Speak truth. Speak encouragement. It'll be hardest when it's easiest to give up. It'll be easiest to overlook when it's harder to get up.
“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” - Romans 10:14-15
Fight. Love. Preach. Shout. Speak. Knock.
Until your very last day.
Links to a couple news stories about this woman: