BURNED, NOT BROKEN: Ozark County man overcomes unthinkable odds after sustaining extreme burns to help others through ministry, volunteer firefighting

Photo submitted Cody Smyth (pronounced Sm-eye-th) sustained severe burns to 82 percent of his body in a car fire when he was 2 years old. Despite the challenge, he serves as a BRVFD firefighter.

Sharing his story Smyth is pictured here speaking at Brushy Knob Church earlier this year. He says he’s hoping to share his story at other locations throughout the area, “just wherever God wants me to.”

Overcoming obstacles As a result of a car fire when he was a toddler, Cody Smyth was severely burned on most of his body, lost his legs, hands and part of his arms in the incident and had to undergo several surgeries. Now a 24-year-old man living in Ozark County, Smyth lives a fairly normal life: working at a job, driving a vehicle, going to church and volunteering with the local fire department. He’s recently begun sharing his story at churches across the area in hopes of helping others.

It was a little over two decades ago in North Dakota when a horrific event forever changed the course of Cody Smyth’s life. As a 2-year-old boy, Smyth was involved in a tragic car fire that left 82 percent of his body severely burned. 

Now the 24-year-old man, who has found a home in Ozark County, is sharing his amazing story in order to help others realize the power that can come from overcoming unthinkable odds to find God’s purpose, a passion for helping others and fulfillment in life.


A car fire that changed everything

The story starts about 20 years ago on a Native American reservation near Belcourt, North Dakota, where Smyth and several of his biological siblings were growing up. Smyth was just a toddler at the time and doesn’t remember a lot from that period of his life. But, one incident does stand out to him - and it has shaped the path his life has taken every moment after. 

“My biological parents left us kids, ages 1 to 8 years old, unattended in the car in a parking lot. The 8-year-old accidently started a fire on the inside of the car with a cigarette lighter, and it quickly went up in flames with me and my sister trapped in our car seats,” Smyth told the Times. “Everyone got out but me and my sister. She was a year old, and I was 2.”

Smyth and his sister were eventually extracted from the vehicle, but the fire had left both of them severely burned. His sister died on the way to the hospital. Miraculously, Smyth lived. 

“I was lucky I was saved. Looking at it from a medical point of view, there’s no way a 2-year-old should have survived after sustaining burns to 82 percent of his body,” he said. “I didn’t know it then, but I do now. I was there in that car for a reason - a reason by God.”

Smyth spent the next year and a half of his life in a children’s hospital recovering from the devastating burns. He was scarred across most of his body, underwent several surgeries, lost both of his legs, his hands and the lower part of his arms.

As an adult he learned a bit more of the story from the night of the fire after connecting with a police officer who had delivered computers to the children’s hospital he was at as a child. The officer said he noticed Smyth in the hospital and asked a nurse about the incident that led to such severe injuries for the small child.

“She told him that one of the firefighters said they originally thought they’d got everyone out of the vehicle that day, but one of the firefighters turned around and just saw this hand sticking out of the fire,” he said. “So the firefighter and his partner went back in and pulled us out too.”

Smyth says he’s thought a lot about that statement in the years since he learned of those details, and he truly believes that moment was part of a divine intervention from above. 

“I think that was the hand of God,” Smyth says. “There’s no way a 2-year-old could have the strength to stick out his hand, let alone let the firefighters see it. If you look at all the stories in the Bible about how God saves people… I think he saved me that day. When I finally understood that, it made me realize that I was there for a reason.”


A loving family

After spending about a year and a half in the hospital, Smyth’s life took another turn - one for the better. 

“My new parents adopted me, and I went to live with them in Michigan in the Upper Peninsula,” he said. 

His parents, Dan and Suzanne Smyth, originally took the toddler on as a foster child, the first foster child they had ever welcomed into their home. 

“I was technically their first and last foster child, because they felt God wanted them to adopt kids. And they did - they adopted me and 11 more after me,” he said. “I have brothers and sisters from Vietnam, China, Bulgaria… it’s really wonderful.”

Smyth says in some ways he’s thankful for the fire because it brought his “real parents” into his life, and without that accident, he may have never met them. He says his parents have been his rock ever since he first stepped foot into their home, and he feels blessed to have them. 

“They taught us to love God and all the good values. They homeschooled us. Growing up was a challenge because I was different. Kids treated me different. I was made fun of. I hated going out of the house because every time I went out someone reminded me that I was different… that I was not loved, that I was basically a menace to society… but my parents, they were always a safe refuge for me. When the world told me that I was useless, they were there to pick me up and help me go through what I was going through. They’ve never given up on me.”


Anger and hitting rock bottom

But even with the support of dedicated and loving parents, Smyth struggled with the ridicule from his peers as he grew up and often had trouble finding joy in life. Despite the fact that his parents led him and the rest of the family in the path of a Christian faith, Smyth says he spent most of his life mad at God. 

“I was so angry at Him, because I was taught the Bible and all these stories in it. I questioned if God could help these people, why can’t he help me? I was just frustrated at that. I thought ‘you know what? If you’re not going to fix me, God, like you’ve fixed everyone else, I want nothing to do with you.’ I turned my back on Him and everything went downhill from there.”

Smyth said he developed a group of friends who weren’t good for him, and he often took the wrong advice in life and made decisions that weren’t good for him or his happiness.

“[My friends] told me I had a right to be angry, and the more I listened to them, the more it fed my anger. I mean, no matter what I did or got into, nothing brought me joy or peace,” Smyth said. 

Smyth said last January, he hit rock bottom - and it’s what has finally broke him free of the pain he’s experienced most of his life. 

“I had to get on my knees and ask forgiveness, and since that point, I’ve never looked back,” he said. “It’s all about looking forward from now on.”


Finding a home in Ozark County

In 2015, the Smyth family began looking for a home outside of Michigan. 

“We got tired of the winters there, and we finally had enough of it. Our last winter it didn’t get above 0 degrees and was as low as 50 below. The animals were miserable, and it just wasn’t worth it,” Smyth said. “We said, ‘God, if we’re supposed to move let it happen.’ He found us this awesome place in the Ozarks, and we love it.”

Dan and Suzanne, Cody and five of his siblings moved here to a little piece of property in Ozark County. Smyth says the family has horses, cows, dogs, cats and chickens at their place here, and all the animals are happier in the more temperate climate. 

They found a home at Family Life Church in Dora with Pastor Don Hamby “who is just awesome,” Smyth says. 

Pastor Hamby says the sentiment is reciprocated. 

“First of all, Cody has some amazing parents. We would not have the privilege of knowing Cody but for Dan and Suzanne Smyth. Their love and care have produced a very respectful and kind young man. Cody was first adopted and many more have joined the family ever since. I have found them all to be very kind and respectful,” Hamby told the Times. “Cody is an inspiration to many. He has a message of perseverance and forgiveness that is unparalleled. I am constantly amazed at his willingness to take on any challenge and never complains.”

Smyth currently holds a job at an Ava business, drives himself wherever he needs to go and lives a pretty normal life here, he says. 


Becoming a volunteer firefighter

The same year the family moved here, Smyth joined the Brixey-Rockbridge Volunteer Fire Department. 

“I joined because I know I was unable to help my sister that night, and I just want to help other people if I can. I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I went through because of a fire. It was a hard road,” Smyth says. 

Brixey-Rockbridge Assistant Fire Chief Randy Joe Stout says Smyth’s been a great addition to the firefighting team. 

“He showed up one day and said he was interested in volunteering, and he’s been with the fire department ever since. He’s had quite a bit of training. He’s been through fireman 1 and first responder courses and a few others,” Stout said. “He’s got a lot of heart, and he’s always there to help when he can. He’ll be at the end of the [fire]hose or running a rake…whatever needs to be done. He goes out on brush fires with us, and he’ll run the end of the hose and spray the fire. He’s right there with us in all of it. You know a lot of people say they just can’t do it, but here he is with no legs and no arms and doing it all.”

Smyth says he’s found a lot of happiness in giving back to the community through his work with the fire department.

“I love it. Anytime the radio goes off, I just answer the call,” he said. 

When asked if he is ever scared responding, considering he’s been through such a traumatic incident involving fire, Smyth says he’s learned to overcome the fear. 

“There is a good amount of fear because you might not make it back, but I’ve made my peace with the Lord and I just said, ‘if it’s my time bring me home, but if it’s not let me help someone else,’” he said. “I still have a respect for the fire. You have to. But I’ve been doing it for 7 years, and it’s a great job… well, it’s a great non-paying job I should say,” he said, laughing.

In addition to helping with fires, Smyth also helps the BRVFD with fundraisers and other events, Stout says, selling raffle tickets for guns and other items throughout the year to help raise money for fire department costs. He’s also pursuing training to become a fire chaplain, offering spiritual and personal counseling to firefighters. 


Finding inspiration in telling his story

Last spring, the Family Life Church hosted guest speaker, Dave Roever, a decorated war veteran who served with the Navy as a riverboat gunner in the elite Brown Water Black Berets. Eight months into Roever’s tour of duty in Vietnam, he was burned beyond recognition when a phosphorous grenade he was poised to throw exploded in his hand. The ordeal left him hospitalized for fourteen months, where he underwent numerous major surgeries. 

Since his seemingly miraculous recovery, he has traveled the world sharing his testimony with humor and imparting hope in the face of insurmountable obstacles. 

Smyth said when he heard Roever speak, he related to his story in many ways and was amazed at how Roever had turned his complicated life circumstances into a way to inspire and help others. It was then that Smyth began thinking of sharing his own story and how it could have an impact on others. 

Roever kept in touch with Smyth, and the Ozark County man traveled to Roever’s ranch in Colorado to attend educational seminars and training on how to use his past and his story to help others. 

“He’s kind of taken me under his wing and is helping me find how to share my story with people. I feel like God is opening doors. He got me a great church, a great support team. He gave me the training I need, and I just feel like now is my time. I need to get out there and share my story and help other people out,” he said. 

Smyth says he can now see that the obstacles that have been put forth in his life are part of his purpose, a way God is working through him. 

He first publicly shared his story at his own church. Then, he shared his story at Roever’s retreat in Colorado, followed by a speech at a Willow Springs church and Brushy Knob General Baptist Church earlier this year. 

 “I’ve finally realized that maybe I can help someone else with my circumstances. I can tell them life is hard, but I’ll encourage them to never give up. We might not see the bigger picture right now, but when God wants us to, he’ll open that door for us. We just need to stay strong and true and never give up no matter what life throws at us,” he said.

Smyth says he is particularly interested in helping young people through difficult times in their life, even though their challenges may differ from his own childhood struggles.

“I want to tell kids that no matter what you look like, you are worthy. I may be scarred on the outside, but we all have scars on our life. I want them to know that Jesus loves them, and he’s there for them. I just want to help them in any way I can,” he said. 


Speaking appearances

Churches, organizations or groups interested in having Smyth speak at their locations can email him at
smythcody00@gmail.com or call the Ozark County Times office at 417-679-4641 to leave contact information that will be passed onto Smyth. Leave a message on the answering machine if there is no answer. 

Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423