Reverend Gary Gudzik​​​​​​​
The Chapel of Saint Valentine

  Fire Department Chaplaincy

Photo Credit: Dennis Whittam

On Being A Fire Chaplain

PJ Fire Dept Website
Photo Credit: ​​​ Andrew Tetreault
Excerpted from The ​​ Federation of Fire Chaplains  manual,
Serving Those Who Serve

Fire departments by tradition have had someone in the role of chaplain since the beginning of the organized fire service. In many departments, a local clergy person has been appointed chaplain to handle emergency situations within the department, such as serious injury to fire department members, line-of-duty deaths, including notification of family members, and suicides involving fire department members and their families. Chaplains have fulfilled a traditional ceremonial role by giving the invocation at fire department functions, and conducting weddings and funerals for fire department family members.
All too often, the functions normally handled by a chaplain have been taken over by members of the administrative staff and firefighters within the department. When needs arose and no one was available to handle them, the staff and members of the department would do their best to handle the crisis. In the modern fire service, numerous factors have made it very desirable to establish a formal position of chaplain. With all the pressures present today, the need for this position is found in all fire departments–paid or volunteer, large or small, private or public.

Duties of the Chaplain

Spiritual Guidance
Two important functions of the fire department chaplain are to help firefighters and their families in times of crisis and to help them with their spiritual needs. Of all the many duties the chaplaincy may entail, these are the principle responsibilities. The chaplain may use different ways to bring about spiritual truths and assistance to an individual family. However, the most important ministry is to simply be available when called upon. Spiritual need is the greatest of all needs and the chaplain must be able to meet this need. It is also a hard area for many ministers to get a “handle on.” The spiritual witness is more often by action rather than by word. The example set by the chaplain in all phases of life has more bearing on the firefighter than “preaching” about it.

Another important part of these functions is to understand the personal religious needs of the firefighters and to call their own minister to assist as soon as possible, if the family so desires. The chaplain can then assist their minister to understand the functions and the resources available through the fire department. This particular area of the chaplaincy is given intense coverage at all chaplain seminars and conferences.
Assistance in Emergency Situations

Dealing with families when a disabling injury or a death occurs is a primary function of the chaplain. To provide the best service at this type of incident, the chaplain should respond as often as possible to all major fire situations. If an injury to a firefighter occurs, the chaplain should meet the firefighter at the hospital, quickly determine the extent of the injury from the hospital staff, and then notify the family in a manner that will not cause undue panic or grief. At the time of the initial call or contact with the family, a decision should be made as to whether the family will need transportation to the hospital. When the family arrives, the chaplain should have an accurate report concerning the firefighter’s condition.

At fire incidents, the chaplain, if not involved in the actual work of the emergency, should be alert to the needs of the firefighters. The chaplain should be especially mindful that the type of people making emergency responses are easily capable of overexerting themselves to the point of exhaustion. Knowing this, the chaplain can make command officers aware of potentially dangerous situations that need immediate attention and/or medical attention.

At major fire incidents it is often the chaplain who is free to assist in handling unruly or hysterical people. This becomes a needed function at rescues, extrications, situations that draw a sizeable crowd, nursing homes, or incidents where children are involved. The importance of keeping a cool, calm demeanor during these times, along with the ability to explain to the public what is actually taking place, is a service the chaplain can perform.

Comforting the bereaved and offering positive direction to the victim’s family are priorities at these types of incidents. The chaplain can explain the types of assistance available to victims through the Red Cross, the Ladies Auxiliary, or other community service and benevolent organizations. When these interventions are used at the scene of an emergency, the results are generally successful in not only aiding the victims, but also in keeping distraught citizens from interfering with the performance of emergency operations.
Conducting or Assisting at Funerals

The chaplain can assist a family in funeral arrangements for both active and retired firefighters. They may even officiate at the service or assist the family minister. Assistance frequently is done in the form of organizing the details of the funeral service. Details to be considered include establishing an honor guard, preparing fire department apparatus for the funeral procession, organizing fire department members at the church or funeral home and at the cemetery, determining the location of the funeral, and arranging for procession escorts. The chaplain must develop a good working relationship with local funeral directors to help them understand the special rituals involved in a fire department funeral.

Support and consolation for the firefighter’s family and children are responsibilities of the chaplain. The chaplain should always send condolences at the time of death of any member of a fire department and represent the department by offering any assistance needed. This is a responsibility of the fire department chaplain that should never be neglected.
Other Occasions

The chaplain may officiate at the wedding of a firefighter, or conduct an annual memorial service. He may bless a new piece of fire apparatus before or after the traditional "wet-down" ceremony. He could be asked to represent the department at a civic function or at a public meeting.

There are countless times a fire chaplain may be called to duty, but his primary role is to serve the spiritual health and well-being of the members of the department and their loved ones.
Reverend Gary's Fire Service History

Reverend Gary joined the Port Jefferson Fire Department in August 1993, becoming a member of Suwassett Engine and Hose Company No. 2. He served as Chief Driver of Engine 2, Lieutenant, and Captain of Company 2. Before converting his membership to social status in about 2005, he was an active, interior firefighter, qualified to operate Engines 2, 3 and 5, Fireboat 6, Heavy Rescue 7, and Brush 12.

After being ordained, he wanted to serve the department once again, and on October 7, 2014, he was appointed Department Chaplain by Chief Dave Williams. He is a member of the New York State Association of Fire Chaplains.