Farmington Fire chaplain says job's tough, but worth the effort

Feb 19 2013 - 6:36am

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NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
Mike Pless became a chaplain for the Farmington Fire Department after a career as a police officer.
NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
Mike Pless became a chaplain for the Farmington Fire Department after a career as a police officer.

FARMINGTON -- One of the hardest days for Farmington Fire Chaplain Mike Pless was when he had to tell a family their father had died after he was hit by a car while filling his gas tank alongside the road.

"That was by far the most difficult day," Pless said about the death of the 52-year-old man in August 2012.

But Pless, who is the pastor at First Southern Baptist Church in Bountiful, knew when he volunteered to be Farmington Fire Department's first chaplain there would be days filled with tragedy.

"I rely on my training and on my personal friends to help me through the hard times," Pless said.

Pless agreed to work as the department's volunteer chaplain in November 2011. He is not an official firefighter, but wears the uniform so when he arrives on a scene he is recognized as a member of the department.

Only a few fire departments in Weber and Davis counties have chaplains, although they are more common in other states.

Pless said that may have to do with the fact that Utah has more of a church culture than other states.

Chaplains do not replace a person's faith representative, but are there until a clergy member arrives. Also, not every person has access to clergy, Pless said.

Chaplains are non denominational and the majority are volunteers, he said.

"The role of a chaplain is not strictly limited to spiritual matters, but to emotional issues also," Pless said. "We give emotional first aid, which can include spiritual matters, but we are there to listen during the tough times and to help direct the person to resources."

Layton Fire Department implemented a chaplain program in 2006 and Weber Fire District added a chaplain program last year.

"I'm a huge believer in the chaplain program," said Weber Fire Deputy Chief Paul Sullivan.

Sullivan said when firefighters arrive, no matter the kind of calls, it is "usually the worst day of that person's life. We're busy dealing with putting out the fire or taking care of the emergency, but a chaplain is there to help with the psychological, emotional and spiritual needs of the person."

Farmington Fire Chief Guido Smith said when firefighters leave the scene of a fire or accident is when a chaplain can step in.

"Life still goes on for the victims of these tragedies and a chaplain is just another step in helping them get through the tough time in their life," Smith said.

Smith said a chaplain is someone for firefighters to talk to when they are going through a rough time.

Firefighters have to deal with a lot of stress due to their jobs, and having someone they can talk to in confidence is a bonus to the department.

Layton Fire Chief Kevin Ward said the chaplains stop by the fire stations to talk so the firefighters become comfortable with them.

For Ward, it is important to have someone firefighters can go to besides administration when they are having a difficult time coping with the job or dealing with personal issues.

"We can't solve all the issues, but talking with them and letting them know someone cares can go a long way," Pless said.

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