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Church saved from burning before Christmas

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    A small flame burns behind a wooden cross above the main entrance to Friendship Baptist Church at Lake Sinclair on Dec. 23. CONTRIBUTED
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    An insurance adjuster will visit in the next few days and determine the extent of the damages so repairs can begin on the church’s entryway. Only the exterior of the building received damage. CONTRIBUTED

A beloved Putnam County church was saved from ruin thanks to a deputy doing his job and the expertise of the fire department, according to one of the church members, who also said God was watching out for the church.

Deputy Alfred Flores was on routine patrol around 11 p.m. along Twin Bridges Road on Dec. 23 when he smelled smoke and noticed flames above the main entrance of Friendship Baptist Church at Lake Sinclair. According to his incident report, Flores had driven by the church 30 minutes earlier and saw no fire or anything unusual. But when he saw fire on his second drive-by, he immediately radioed for the dispatcher to send Putnam County Fire Rescue.

“I got the call from the sheriff’s department before the monitoring system called me, so praise God for his merciful protection,” church deacon Wayne Yeoman said. “I was afraid it was the new church building, but when I topped the hill and saw all the firetrucks at the end of the parking lot, I knew it was the chapel. Due to the fire department’s expertise and the deputy’s quick timing, we were very fortunate. The fire chief told us if it had been five minutes later, it would’ve been in the sanctuary and we would’ve had a lot of damage. We are just so grateful for that officer.”

Putnam County Fire Department Chief Thomas McClain also praised Flores, saying if it weren’t for him, the building may have been a total loss.

“When I first arrived, the flame was only coming from the underside of the front porch,” the fire chief said. “The fire hadn’t made it to the inside of the structure, so most of the damage was on the exterior of the building. We made sure it didn’t get into the attic; but another few minutes later, if Deputy Flores hadn’t noticed it, and it would’ve gotten into the sanctuary.”

Firefighters with both Flat Rock and Twin Bridges fire stations were dispatched to the fire, and units from all of the county’s other stations also arrived to assist, McClain said. There were no injuries reported.

The cause of the fire is ruled electrical, McClain said, and the exterior front of the building was damaged, as were the front windows and soffits. Yeoman also said the carpet may have to be replaced in the entire building “because you can’t just replace the carpet in the foyer,” but that is not certain yet. He said the insurance adjuster was scheduled to visit later this week.

Friendship Baptist began in 1985 in a house, Yeoman said, then moved into a trailer, then the chapel was built. A fellowship hall was built next, followed by a Sunday school building and then the new church building. The Rev. Bernie Davis serves as the pastor, and the church has approximately 200 members. The new sanctuary is used on Sunday mornings, and the chapel is used for Sunday evening and Wednesday evening services.

“That church means everything to me,” Yeoman said. “I have so many memories there and I’m so glad it wasn’t destroyed.”

The church members wanted to express their gratitude to Deputy Flores with a monetary gift, but Yeoman said Sheriff Howard Sills told him that such gifts are illegal, so the church will recognize him during one of the services and present him with a special letter of gratitude, Yeoman said.

The sheriff also expressed praises for the deputy.

“Deputy Flores did what he was supposed to do, so the fact that he was patrolling properly and checking buildings the right way enabled him to prevent this church from sustaining considerable damage, if not being completely destroyed,” Sills said. “Flores is a fine officer. I really like him and most regrettably know that I am going to be losing him to retirement sometime in the not too distant future.”

Yeoman said the sheriff told him that Flores started working at the jail as a jailer when he was 18 years old, then became certified and has been serving Putnam County as a deputy all of his life.