Gateway Church of God catches fire

Russellville Fire Department responded to a fire at Gateway Church of God on Hwy. 43 in Russellville Sat. evening. The three-alarm fire called for help from both volunteer firefighters, as well as off-duty paid personnel. Nobody was injured. Russellville Police Department, as well as Blue Springs and Tharptown Volunteer Fire Departments also helped take control of the situation.

RFD Fire Marshal Justin Green reported the call came in at “roughly 5:26 p.m.” Nobody is believed to have been in the building at the time, though Green said a parishioner reported having left the building about 10 minutes prior, noticing nothing out of the ordinary.

RFD learned of the fire when an individual passing by noticed flames coming out of the roof of the church and stopped at Russellville Fire Station #2 (located next to the church) to report what he saw.

Green said the fire was in “a little void area – an area you can’t access from an exterior doorway – behind the stage, where there’s some electrical stuff.” He added it doesn’t appear there was anything suspicious about the incident.

“Where the fire was, it was just very difficult to get to to extinguish it,” Green continued. “That’s actually what probably took the longest. We finally found the fire in another way.”

Part of the search for the fire included firefighters cutting a hole in the roof, an approach Green said was used because it seemed like the best way at the time, to attempt accessing the fire through the drop ceiling.

“When probably 90% of the fire was extinguished that way, we gained access through the voided area and got around to the back of it to be able to extinguish the rest,” he explained.

Green said they wound up calling for reinforcements.

“We ended up calling for more manpower because the guys were exhausted from working – running, climbing back and forth up the ladder, trying to cut and get in and spray,” Green said. “So, we got some other departments, Blue Springs and Tharptown Volunteer Fire Departments, to come in.”

Green said the fire “could have been a lot worse.”

“Everyone did a great job, and obviously there’s damage and cleanup that will be needed,” he added, noting the full extent of the damage or precise cause of the fire are not known at this time, though the structure is still standing, appearing largely intact.

RFD Chief Joe Mansell said the department thanks everyone who responded to their call for assistance to help in fighting the fire.

“This was right next to RFD Fire Station #2,” Mansell explained, “and they were able to get in there and get the fire under control pretty quick. It was definitely a group effort,” he added, echoing Green’s assessment of everyone having done “a great job” in responding to and fighting the fire.

Mansell said the fire was located above the ceiling, noting it “could have been burning for a while,” explaining that if that were the case, those inside would not have known it until such time that it finally broke through the ceiling. “It could have been burning for a few hours,” he added, noting whether that’s the case is not known at this time.

“It finally vented out the roof,” Mansell continued, “and that’s when somebody noticed while driving by on the highway and stopped at the fire station to report it.”

Green said because of the fire involving a church, he called the state deputy fire marshal for extra investigators, expected to arrive on Monday, to help with investigation and determination of the cause.

“I don’t think it’s anything malicious,” Green added. “The fire was near a breaker box, but I don’t think it’s going to be associated with it, but the full investigation hasn’t been done yet.”

Green said the church had a lot of insulation between the sanctuary and the voided area, and people inside would have had to be “super quiet” to potentially hear any popping or crackling from a fire, noting they wouldn’t have even been going in that area.

“They were just there helping get ready for Sunday church services, including cleaning up and other preparations,” he added. “It’ll be Monday when we really start looking further, and I’m going to have the area secured.”

Green estimated it took around 30 minutes to get the fire under control, noting time was required for setup of equipment, raising the ladder, cutting a hole and looking for all locations of the fire.

The congregation met at the Ralph C. Bishop recreation center in Russellville at 10:30 a.m. the next day for Sunday services, an arrangement the church’s pastor, Nick McSpadden, said he expects to continue for the foreseeable future.

The full extent of the damage and assessment of necessary repairs are still being determined. McSpadden said Wednesday services might be able to be held at the church since the middle section and fellowship hall were unaffected by the fire.

“Electricity runs from the main side of the church to the rest of the building,” McSpadden explained, adding if they can get electricity from the main part of the building to the unaffected parts, they should be able to hold Wednesday services there, though it wouldn’t be big enough for Sundays.

During Sunday morning’s service, McSpadden said standing there seeing the church on fire made him feel “as helpless as I have ever been in my life to affect a situation as I watched the building burn.” He said other pastors and community members have already reached out in many ways, offering to help with places for services and generally providing a lot of encouragement.

McSpadden said while he watched firefighters work to put out the blaze, he felt a sense of reassurance.

“The Lord spoke to me,” he told the congregation. “He said, ‘Son, it’s just a building. It’s just a building. You’re going to be okay.’

He described feeling “overwhelmed with people’s love” following the incident. “I could not preach faith to you this morning if I could not live faith in front of you today,” McSpadden continued, “and this day after we watched the tragedy take place, I was helpless to do anything about it, and I never felt so helplessin my life, but what I understood yesterday while standing there is that God’s hand is much larger than anything I could ever do or hope to do in this life.”

McSpadden said he doesn’t know what things will look like when they get into another sanctuary, but that’s not something he’s concerned about right now.

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not yet seen,” he continued. “Let me tell you where my faith is not. My faith is not in the structure of that building. My faith is in the one who gave Himself for me. It’s not about a structure. Where your heart is is what matters. When you have Jesus in your life, he’s a friend for life.

For questions about church services, visit the Gateway Church of God Facebook page or call McSpadden at 256-627-7935.

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