To say that a new chaplain program at the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District is simply “another tool in the toolbox” may seem minimizing, said Public Information Officer Lt. Branden Jackman, but in a way, that’s exactly what it is: simply another way for the largest fire district in the county to keep its “customers” and staff healthy on the darkest of days.
The idea of a dedicated force of local pastors being “on call” for those dark days came up after Firefighter Joe Patterson was killed in a station accident at Rainsboro earlier this year, and again when two fiery car accidents claimed two lives in the space of a few days, according to Chief Dave Manning.
The planning process began in earnest when a 2-year-old child was killed in a car accident in September, according to JD Lyle, associate pastor at Good News Gathering.
The Paint Creek crew that responded to that incident had already covered two fatalities that shift, one of which was also a child, and Lyle’s father, Jeff, came to the scene to support the family and first responders. Jeff Lyle is the pastor of Good News Gathering.
After that, JD Lyle and Capt. Matt Miller of Paint Creek began coordinating a roster of pastors willing to be on call for such occasions, and the program launched the week before Thanksgiving, according to Lyle.
Senior chaplains on the roster include Mike Brown, John Coyle, JD Lyle, Jeff Lyle, Derek Russell, Jim Bush and Clay Self. Associate chaplains include Kim Zornes, Lloyd Shoemaker and Randy Butler.
The pastors are on call from 12 a.m. Sunday till the following Saturday at 11:59 p.m., JD Lyle said.
Lyle described emergency service as a “unique profession” that is often emotionally draining, adding that firefighters have a high divorce and suicide rates due to the nature of the job.
“It’s hard to take that home to family,” he said, so it’s important that chaplains “give (first responders) a place to offload some of that garbage.”
As a licensed counselor, Lyle said he sees emergency personnel as “at-risk individuals,” since they often experience post-traumatic stress disorder on a similar level to some members of the military.
Most of the time, Lyle said, chaplains simply sit with first responders and talk. This affords them “a chance to be a shoulder, an ear.”
Jackman said Lyle was “baptized into the world of small-town EMS” when he responded to the fiery car accidents alongside Paint Creek personnel, and he has witnessed what the lieutenant called “compassion fatigue.”
“We turn it off to do our jobs, and forget to turn it back on,” Jackman said, recalling a tidal wave of drug overdoses that caused many first responders to lose hope altogether.
Lyle said the chaplain program is also beneficial to pastors, because for many ministers, church can too often become “where you live all the time.” As a Paint Creek chaplain, Lyle said he can interact with “real people and real things” outside of a church setting.
Manning said when it comes to informing relatives of a death or injury, emergency personnel have “limited training, short of ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’”
In other words, Jackman added, “We’re break fixers. If it’s broken, we fix it.”
So, having a softer voice to break the news is “a huge asset to the community,” Manning said.
Manning thanked the pastors involved and their respective congregations for understanding the importance of the program.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570.