The Rescuer: One Firefighter’s Story of Courage, Darkness, and the Relentless Love that Saved Him

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


The Rescuer: One Firefighter’s Story of Courage, Darkness, and the Relentless Love that Saved Him


Jason Sautel with D.R. Jacobsen


Thomas Nelson

Publication Date:

September 1, 2020




204 pages


In his twenties, Jason Sautel seemed like he was doing great. He’d escaped his abusive childhood to become a successful firefighter in the harsh urban landscape of Oakland, California. Then one day while trying to save someone from jumping off a bridge, he realized he hadn’t buried his pain. His pain was increasing, threatening to consume him. Over the next few weeks, strange encounters with people he’s trying to help and unexpected encounters with Christianity force Sautel to ask a hard question: Does he have anything left to live for? Will faith fill the hole he’s had for so long?

The book is credited as written “with” D.R. Jacobsen, which usually means the book was ghostwritten by the second person. Since the point of ghostwriting is for readers to feel like the subject wrote the book, ghostwritten books tend not to have much personality; after all, a unique writing style might conflict with the subject’s natural tone. Surprisingly, this book has a very distinct writing style. The firefighting scenes are played out in a terse, dramatic style like a good thriller. The book also works in lots of little reflections about Oakland, and what it felt like for Sautel to deal with depression and suicidal thoughts. The authors never uses the word “suicide”; instead they refer to “the darkness” within, the sense it operated like a black hole that would eat up everything good that came into Sautel’s life. The effect is a bit like Joe Connelly’s novel Bringing Out the Dead with its autobiographical musings of being a night shift paramedic. Like Connelly’s book, The Rescuer captures the brutal reality of saving lives a stark urban setting, the existential struggle when emergency help isn’t enough to save dying people, and the strange ways that redemption can come when one least expects it.

The fact Sautel doesn’t hold much back about the harsh realities of fire emergencies or his own background (growing up with an abusive father, contemplating at age 10, and suffering under various cruel adults) makes the redemptive elements more powerful. Paradoxical as it may seem, stories that try to skip over conflict don’t do a very good job of capturing the beauty of redemption. Even adventure stories don’t work that well unless they let their characters undergo strong conflicts. The Empire Strikes Back is the most effective of the original Star Wars movies, and it’s mostly about characters struggling with themselves, coming to the end of themselves or suffering the effects of their poor choices. Rebirth requires dying to self, and people can’t die to self until they realize how far they’ve descended. Some people don’t even reach that point until they’ve hit rock bottom.

Understanding the need to die to self is particularly important for high achievers, who frequently throw themselves into big projects to avoid or to compensate for inner pain. Sautel admits early on that firefighting served that purpose, giving him excitement so he didn’t have to face past trauma. In that context, his choice to be raw and honest is especially helpful. His story highlights how someone can seemingly have it all together but still be deeply broken. This is a lesson that too few Western Christians talk about and perhaps explains why so many ministry leaders with slick profiles “suddenly” crack under crises or burnout.

A visceral, compelling story about facing one’s demons and discovering a hope that defies the odds.


Rating (1 to 5 stars)

4.5 stars

Suggested Audience

People who like real-life stories about emergency personnel (paramedics, fire fighters, police) or stories about redemption in the harshest circumstances.

Christian Impact

The author relates several encounters he had with Christians, some positive and others negative, leading up to an encounter with a woman who became his wife who helped him explore Christianity and find faith. His stories about arrogant Christians highlight the problem of being legalistic, while his stories about helpful Christians highlight the shocking redemptive power that a mature faith can have on people.

The Rescuer: One Firefighter’s Story of Courage, Darkness, and the Relentless Love That Saved Him

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