Fire Chaplaincy in the United Kingdom ~ a busy year
by Nick Rutter
UK Fire & Rescue Service Chaplains’ Association of the United Kingdom and Islands (FRSCA)
The UK Fire & Rescue Service Chaplains’ Association of the United Kingdom and Islands (FRSCA) has grown dramatically in the last three years; supporting and developing pastoral care for one of the UK’s front-line emergency services.
Chairman, Rev’d Paul Thomas, Chaplain to South Wales Fire and Rescue Service is an Elim Minister and retired Senior Fire Officer, and Nick Rutter, Chaplain to two Fire Stations in Staffordshire, England, tell us a little about their involvement in this exciting ministry over a busy past year.
“The essence of my duties and responsibilities is engaging with fire fighters and non uniformed staff on a regular basis. I visit the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service Headquarters, various Fire Stations and offices on a weekly basis, to meet and chat with the staff. I am also ‘on call’ to attend any situation, where service personnel feel they would like the chaplain’s presence and support” explains Paul, whose 34 years of operational service plus 9 years as a chaplain in the Fire and Rescue Service enables him to relate and connect with staff on both a personal and work level. This close relationship has helped him to gain the trust of the staff, build bridges and offer the support need whilst working in this mentally and physically demanding service.
“These men and women live with life and death situations and put their own lives at risk to help others daily. It is my absolute pleasure and joy to offer them an experienced listening ear, a helping hand and ultimately to be able to share my faith in such an open way. Through serving the Fire and Rescue service in this capacity, I am literally wearing God’s heart on my sleeve. The response is overwhelming” says Paul.
Paul’s work for the Fire and Rescue Service has also provided him with some rather unique opportunities. In 2010 Paul took part in a service at Winchester Cathedral in Memory of two firefighters who lost their lives in the course of duty. Later that year, at the FRSCA Conference at the Fire Service College, Moreton in Marsh, Paul was elected National Chair.
2011 has been a busy year according to the FRSCA National Secretary, Nick Rutter (C of E): “Paul and I worked together at the annual Service of Thanksgiving at the Fire Service Monument in the National Memorial Arboretum. We were also involved at the unveiling of the new Royal Charter for the Firefighters’ Memorial Trust. At the Service of Dedication of the Trust’s new Standard, Nick and Paul were invited to talk with the HRH Princess Royal about their chaplaincy roles.
Paul and Nick also took part in the 9/11 Tenth Anniversary Services at St Paul’s Cathedral and laid wreaths at the Firefighters’ Monument in Sermon Lane. Later that day, Paul took part in the service at Westminster Abbey receiving the personal thanks of the Dean of Westminster for their involvement and support as the representatives of the U.K. Fire and Rescue Services.
A few days later, the 2011 National Fire and Rescue Service Chaplains’ Conference took place at the Fire Service College with Bob Neill MP, Her Majesty’s Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Fire and Resilience as one of the Keynote speakers. As a thank you present the Minister was presented with a “Trauma Teddy.” Knitted by a group of ladies in Nick’s parish in Lichfield, Staffordshire, the teddies are given to youngsters involved in house fires or in traffic accidents when they have lost their own comfort toys.
In October, Nick and Paul and two other FRSCA members flew over to Belfast in Northern Ireland where they undertook at course in Critical Incident Stress Debriefing as part of their work. All three are experienced counsellors and the course sought to bring their skills up to date with modern Fire Service standards and Procedures.
…and so at the end of a productive year, Nick and Paul continue to serve the Fire and Rescue Service, seeking to fulfil their Chaplaincy motto… “For All Without Exception.”
About the Author: I started teaching at Kingsmead High School, Hednesford, Staffordshire, in 1976 and l retired some 35 years later. As a Special Needs teacher I came across children with a wide variety of problems, educational, physical and social. I attended a variety of counselling courses thereafter, and acted as counsellor for a number of years. Soon after I retired I had a telephone call from the Archdeacon of Lichfield asking me to consider becoming the Chaplain to Lichfield Fire Station.
I had no background in the Fire Service, other than going to see some former pupils as they graduated from our County Training School, but I found myself becoming more and more involved with my work there. In the UK we chaplains are not expected to go out on calls except in very specific circumstances, so I often get a call to meet the crews when they return to the station after a shout. It is there that my counselling skills still come into use. To that end, I jumped at the chance to undertake the ICISF course in Critical Stress Debriefing held in Belfast in October 2011.
Each September, the Fire & Rescue Service Chaplains’ Association of the UK holds its Annual Conference at the Fire Service College at Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire. I attended my first Conference and enjoyed myself thoroughly, and went to my second Conference fully expecting to learn a lot and to come away with fresh ideas. On the last day of Conference the then National Secretary announced that he was retiring from that rôle and my neighbour “nudged my elbow” at the wrong moment. I have been the National Secretary for the last three years.
A lot of the work of the National Secretary involves organising the Conference, but also representing the Association at major events. One of the saddest events in recent years was the death, in the course of their duties, of four Firefighters at Atherstone on Stour, not far from Stratford upon Avon. The tragedy was a great shock to everyone in the service and most of the Chaplains throughout the UK made a point of making their way to Coventry Cathedral for the Memorial Service the following June. Some forty Chaplains were robed and in the Choir stalls for the service.
This seems to have struck a chord with many of the Chief Fire Officers present because we have had numerous enquiries about setting up a Chaplaincy Service since then and the later death of two firefighters in Southampton. The number of members of the Association has grown to about 100 from a low-point of 30 when I took over.