Fire chaplains called to serve Snohomish
Photo courtesy Snohomish Fire District #4
Fire District 4 has five volunteer chaplains who serve the firefighters and community in the wake of tragedy. From left, Geoff Andrist, Margie Jacobson, Dana Uplinger and Mike Ussery. Chaplain Jeff Judy is not pictured.
SNOHOMISH — The minutes and hours after loss or tragedy can feel like a deluge of unfamiliarity; plans to make, people to call and questions to answer.
In Snohomish, the chaplains of Fire District 4 are at the ready to bridge the gap to better days.
“Our entire purpose is to help other people in times of need, in times of stress, when difficult things happen,” said Dana Uplinger, chaplain coordinator for the fire district.
Five volunteer chaplains — Geoff Andrist, Margie Jacobson, Jeff Judy, Mike Ussery and Uplinger — staff 24-hour, on-call shifts. At a moment’s notice, time spent building bonds with the department’s 66 employees will be interrupted by a fire, accident, rescue, death or a variety of other calls.
With the urgency of a first responder, the chaplain arrives at a scene intent on providing support to the firefighters and community members alike.
From their rig — a bright-red, retired ambulance named Support 43 — the chaplains offer amenities and necessities to settle some of the immediate dismay.
Prayer is optional and the chaplains aren’t looking for converts. Instead, they listen, empathize and console, while helping to solve whatever problems materialize as a steady voice who has been through the situation before.
“In the chaplain ministry, it is about showing practical caring, practical love and getting them through sometimes the worst moments of their life,” Uplinger said.
The chaplaincy program is as unique as it is positive, Chief Don Waller said. Few other departments have the service and it certainly isn’t to the same scale.
The chaplains took ownership of the program, maintaining it with no cost to the city or district and choosing to have someone available at all hours.
“There are five people who really are truly dedicated to selflessly serving the community at large,” Waller said. “It allows us to focus on our job and get a much better product on both sides for the community members.”
Out on calls, chaplains aid the firefighter’s rehab with hydration, nourishment and tools to brave the elements. Once back at the firehouse, they handle mental health by convening after taxing incidents to unpack any underlying trauma.
“In the fire service, (responding to incidents) is what they do, they are trained to do it, but there is still a human part of it and that is what we try to address, just to make sure the human part of it is going to be OK,” Uplinger said.
The role isn’t easy. The job is fraught with the sights and sounds of tragedy, but Uplinger said each of the district’s chaplains felt a calling to the service.
Uplinger couldn’t evade the persistent desire to help others after retiring from a 35-year career at Boeing. His son, a firefighter with District 4 for a decade, recommended the chaplaincy and Uplinger said a smile hasn’t left his face since he joined seven years ago.
“We are there for the community and our firefighters, we want to serve, we want you to give us the opportunity to serve,” he said. “It is just what we love to do.”
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