Fire chaplains: serving those who serve
By Andy Kwak
By Andy Kwak
Norm MacLeod, deputy fire chief for White Rock Fire Rescue in British Columbia, recently posted this statement on Facebook: “Chaplains play a huge roll behind the scenes supporting firefighters and their families. Their volunteer work often goes unrecognized by the public because they don’t make the front page of the paper or on social media when there is a fire or an emergency…but they are beside us every step of the way to support us should we fall.”
Chaplains play an important role in the fire service, one to be reminded of during the stress of the pandemic. In 2015 I had the privilege to attend the Federation of Fire Chaplain’s Conference in West Palm Beach, Fla. This conference is held annually and moves across the country to various locations. Its membership is made up of predominately U.S. fire chaplains, however at this particular conference, there were about six to eight British Columbia chaplain delegates attending. One day at the conference, the British Columbia chaplains got together and floated the idea of a Canadian-based fire chaplain’s group. Although the Americans face many of the same challenges we face within the fire service, we also have some procedures that are unique to Canada. One example would be line of duty death procedures. We talked about what a Canadian chaplain group would look like but soon discovered that with the vast geographic area that encompasses Canada that would be setting our aim too high. We narrowed it down to a British Columbia association. We proposed the idea to the U.S. Federation of Fire Chaplains (FFC) about forming a Canadian branch in British Columbia branch and they gave us their full support.
Upon our return to Canada we met several times and started to organize the British Columbia Association of Fire Chaplains (BCFCA). Since its inception in 2016 we now are about 35 members strong from across the province. We highly encourage our members to hold dual membership (FFC/BCFCA) which most members take advantage of. Our relationship with the mother organization (FFC) is strong and many of us continue to attend their annual conferences but we have also instituted our own annual conference that is essential for maintaining up-to-date training. This training includes the basic chaplaincy course as well as CISM training and subjects such as the Resilient Minds course. Unfortunately, the pandemic has put a pause on any formal training but we are still meeting virtually via Zoom.
As a group of long standing fire chaplains associated with the FCC, the BCFCA provides the following goals to the fire services throughout the province:
Provide reasonably priced and geographically accessible training to equip those doing fire chaplaincy work in British Columbia.
Build a community of fire chaplains in British Columbia for mutual encouragement, support, and sharing the resources entrusted to us.
Promote a high professional standard in fire chaplain ministry by honouring the training standards of the FFC and then supplementing with complimentary Canadian content
Encourage membership in the BCFCA and FFC in order to receive a higher level of training and gain wider international perspective of fire chaplain ministry. A discount from both organizations is offered with dual membership.
The BCFCA operates with a number of formalized standards and values. The BCFCA submits to the standards of the FFC in professionalism, ethics and training. The FFC board has entered a formal agreement with the BCFCA giving their blessing to use FCC materials to train chaplains, promote membership, and promote networking and community among fire chaplains in British Columbia.
Together our voice has already been heard at the Fire Chiefs’ Association of British Columbia level and at the provincial International Associatoin of Fire Fighters level. There is openness to further connection. We trust that we are making a difference in the lives of members in the fire department.
Alberta is also following our lead, forming an Alberta chapter using the British Columbia prototype. Our dream is to, one day, see a Canada wide federation of fire chaplains. Together, by “the ministry of presence”, we can affect change at all levels of fire service organizations both in career and volunteer environment.
Andy Kwak is a Chaplain AFRS/MFRS and president of the BCFCA. You can learn more about the BCFCA by visiting bcfirechaplains.net.