The seeds of chaplaincy were sown in my life long ago:
My first ministry outside of a church setting was as a chaplain to a nursing home in my home town back in the late 1980s. After moving to Oregon in 2002, my pastor asked me to serve as a chaplain at the local truck stop. I did that for over 4 years until starting a new church in Damascus (ORE) required more of my time.
When hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, I lost a partner in ministry. Well, not exactly like that sounded. Gary Floyd and I had been leading the boy’s ministry (Royal Ambassadors) at our church. Gary also serves as the Disaster Relief Director for the Northwest Baptist Convention. I was proud of what I saw Gary and his volunteers doing. My own son, a senior in high school at the time, was even able to go help with Katrina because of what Gary was doing. I asked Gary how I could serve, and he encouraged me to look into chaplaincy.
Fast forward a few years: a Clackamas County Deputy King calls me to say my stolen car had been recovered and is drivable. I started doing ride-alongs with the officer and had an positive influence in his life including his marriage, emotional, and spiritual life. After the court session for which we both were asked to attend, I got to share the love of God with the father of the young man who had my car. A few months later, I had the chance to share that with the young man himself. We took him out to dinner and shared with him what God has done for us … and hopefully modeled forgiveness to him in the process. You’ve never seen such a nervous young man though! It wasn’t just nerves, it was spiritual warfare as well.
The deputy and I had become friends, and a few years later he and a firefighter friend of mine arrived on scene where a young girl had been hit by a vehicle. Everyone was sure she was going to die. Holding her head still between his knees as my firefighter friend put a tracheotomy in her throat to get air in her lungs, he could only think of his own two young daughters. Post traumatic stress syndrome is something that steals marriages, careers, and lives of many first responders, and days later I wondered why my friend wasn’t getting the professional help he needed. True, I only heard his side of the story, but if only I could have been trained to help him and the firefighter in this very difficult situation. In the summer of 2011 I felt God calling me to work towards being able to do just that as a police and fire chaplain for the area where our church has been planted.
Disaster Relief Chaplain
I took courses for Disaster Relief chaplaincy that autumn, and other courses as time went by. I started to meet with other first responder chaplains to pick their brains and listen to their stories. I started to pick brains of my law enforcement and firefighting friends as well, and I started to pray seriously about this and to ask friends of mine to pray as well.
In the summer of 2012, I had the honor of serving as a Disaster Relief chaplain in the Taylor Bridge wildfires of Central Washington state. [Read more here.] I was teamed up with an experienced fire chaplain from East Pierce County (WA) who taught me by word and example how to do the job. At the end of that week, the Incident Commander of the wildfire presented me with one of the highest honors I’ve ever received — a challenge coin for my work as one of only two chaplains working with more than one thousand firefighters and hundreds of residents who had been evacuated and had now returned to what was left of their homes. “Hey Chappy” one young firefighter called to me one day; I felt like I had a new nickname that just may stick.
In December of 2012, an awful thing happened at a mall crammed with Christmas shoppers. It was Clackamas Town Center, the local mall for the people that our Trinity Church is reaching. It was C-COM that took those 911 calls, it was Boring and Clackamas Fire whose first responsibility for safety brought their teams on scene. These are “my” men and women, even if not so officially. They are on my hearts and in my prayers frequently. I was called on scene when Red Cross reached out to their partners at Northwest Baptist Disaster Relief with the need for chaplains to assist victims. [Read more here.] Three afternoons and evenings presented many opportunities to share God’s love in the ministry of presence as the mall opened back up 2 days after the shootings. While not able to do much in the way of ministry towards the first responders yet, I sensed God walking with me as I listened, hugged, cried with, prayed for, and on a few occasions gave counsel to bereaved, mad, sad, confused, scared, brave employees and surviving shoppers.
I went on to serve as the lead chaplain for Northwest Baptist Disaster Relief for a week in Oso, WA after the mudslide that killed 43 people in March of 2014 [link]. Too soon after that, I became the lead chaplain not only for the Northwest Baptist response but for the county’s response to an active shooter tragedy in my own neighborhood (Reynolds High School in Troutdale, OR in May of 2014 [link]) where I led a group of chaplains in the response, was part of the planning team, and assisted in the debrief of the police department of that jurisdiction. Between those two incidents, I became the first chaplain to be allowed as an observer to the Portland International Airport’s Triennial Exercise [link]. My hope and plan is to have chaplains involved in this major exercise next time. I have also been asked by Multnomah County Emergency Management to be part of the planning team for Cascadia Rising, a regional exercise in preparation for the Cascadia Subduction (aka: The Big One) seismic event.
The month before serving in the wildfire, I was asked by the Public Information Officer of the fire department I had been praying about, if I would consider serving as chaplain. The department’s chief was opposed to having a chaplain, and in the past several firefighters told me I was nuts to prepare to serve as their chaplain. It is the largest volunteer fire department this side of the Rocky Mountains. Three days later, I was also asked to consider serving as chaplain for the same county’s 911 center. In 2013, I began serving as chaplain for Boring Fire District #59 and Clackamas Fire District #1, and hope to as also serve as chaplain for the C-COM, the county’s 911 center. I am deeply grateful for these opportunities.
Chaplain, Boring & Clackamas Fire Districts:
I began the application process for this volunteer position in August of 2012. I had been praying about it for almost a year prior to that, seeking advice from chaplains and firefighters I knew, as well as training. I was told by quite a few with whom I shared this “vision” for ministry that there would never be a chaplain at Boring Fire, but I kept following what I felt God calling me to do. The doors started opening in early 2012 from what I can tell, though I did not approach any in leadership at these fire districts. In fact, one of their own approached me about it in July of 2012. Boring Fire was the largest volunteer fire department in Oregon at the time, Clackamas the second largest. When combined, they were more than twice the size of any other volunteer force in Oregon, and posibly the largest volunteer fire force in the western USA. Boring Fire’s Chief Brian Stewart approved me in January 2013, along with my friend Pastor Jim Erb. I was sworn in on May 29th, 2013 and joined forces with 3 chaplains who could be more flexible in their availability. I plan was to concentrate my time on building relationships with the firefighters via ride-alongs, drop-by visits, volunteer firefighter association meetings, frequently attending the weekly drills and other functions, which is what I have been doing. My aim has to have a “ministry of presence” that is built on time spent with them, to simply “be there” for them. It is a great honor to serve not only Damascus and Boring, but the surrounding communities as chaplain for these outstanding departments. One of the current chaplains, Mike Vermace, has been a friend of mine for the past couple of years, and the other new chaplain, Jim Erb, and I have for even longer. I have enjoyed getting to know and work alongside of long-time Chaplain JR Wheeler as well.
In August of 2015 it was my privilege serve, at the request of the Incident Management Team, as one of 3 fire chaplains in the days immediately following 3 Line of Duty Deaths and 4 serious burn injuries at the largest wildfire in the nation. The Okanogan Complex Fire had become the largest fire in Washington’s history, and would burn more acreage than all of the state’s wildfires combined in the previous year. I served with 2 of my fire chaplain friends (who happen to also be SBC Disaster Relief chaplains and mentors of mine) for a week, after which we were able to provide replacement chaplains for the next several weeks. The Chelan Complex Wildfire just south of our location also called in chaplains and as far as anybody knows these were the first conflagrations (large wildfires) in Washington or Oregon to specifically request chaplains for the firefighters. During my service at Okanogan, our team worked with 3 separate IMTs giving those teams good exposure to the benefits of including chaplains. We expect that the door will be more open in the near future for such call-outs.
Chaplain, C-COM (Clackamas County’s 911 Center):
Three days after I was approached about serving with Boring/Clackamas Fire, a mutual friend of the C-COM director and myself contacted me to say that the director was looking into starting a chaplaincy program to assist his team as they deal with very high stress work that often leads towards Post Traumatic Stress. Call-takers and dispatchers in Com Centers often hear the screaming and shrieks from victims, without the benefit of knowing the outcome. Sometimes they may hear a suicide victim’s final words, or have to talk a child into giving CPR to a parent. I am very honored to serve under the direction of Bob Cozzie and with the heroes of C-COM as their chaplain. This currently consists of 2 visits per month, visiting during particularly difficult times, and debriefs when needed. I enjoyed involving other agencies and organizations (Red Cross, TIP, Trinity Church, City of Damascus) in honoring these 911 workers for the national week of recognition for 911 Centers in April of 2013. What an incredible staff Bob Cozzie leads!
Training and Preparation
I plan to continue my education with more CISM (Critical Incident Stress Management) courses, having been certified already in 4 disciplines (over 60 classroom hours) thus far. I have my basic certifications for Incident Command Structure and will be continuing that training. In May of 2013, I graduated from the respected “Police and Fire Chaplain’s Training Academy” at the Washington Criminal Justice Training Center. PFCTA is the only such training to simultaneously qualify its graduates for basic certificates both in the FFC (Federation of Fire Chaplains) and ICIPC (International Conference of Police Chaplains). I am in affiliated with Public Safety Chaplaincy which provides me with accountability, networking, training, and fellowship with other first responder chaplains. I am becoming to become a member of the FFC for similar reasons. Boring/Clackamas Fire will give me other opportunities for ongoing education for which I am excited and grateful. For a more full listing of some of my training, click here. There is also a listing of other training goals in the job description for a Clackamas Fire Chaplain which you can view here.