by Kevin Coffey
Chicago Fire Department Firefighter (retired)
OK, I’ve got this theory. It goes like this: The greatest concentration of pure unadulterated good in your town is at the fire station. Yes, I’m serious. Sure, I may have a bit of a skewed predisposition from being in the fire service for the past 34 years. But something happens in the heart of the man or woman who puts on the firefighter’s uniform. It may not be as outwardly dramatic as Superman’s phone booth transformation, but I believe it is nonetheless an invitation to an inner transformation from God (He’s just above Superman). It is a transformation from average citizen to a community doer of good. The seeds of that good were already planted in the soil of your heart when you were initially drawn to the fire service. And that good sprouted to life and continues to grow ever since the first day that you put on the uniform. That good is nurtured by the trust your community places in you and their expectation that you will be there when they call.
Here’s what the Bible says about it: “For we, (insert your fire department name), are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”. Did you hear that? God has prepared the good stuff that he wants you and your fire department to do far in advance of when you are actually going to do it! (Please don’t ask me how He does that.) In fact, God says that he wants firefighters to be “thoroughly equipped for every good work”.
Now the first “good” we naturally think of are the emergency calls we are dispatched to. Responding to fires, EMS calls, extrication, hazmat, etc…, are a major part of the good that God has prepared in advance for us to do. Then there is the non-emergency good stuff that God has prepared for us to do. Much of that is fire-related, like public fire safety education and fire prevention. But so often firefighters and fire departments find that the deposit of good within them won’t rest at that. I have seen countless examples of firefighters doing good stuff in their communities and beyond that are completely non-fire-related. They sponsor and coach athletic teams, lead homecoming parades, raise funds for local and/or national charities, build ramps for wheelchair-bound citizens, provide Thanksgiving dinner baskets and Christmas toy drives for struggling families, sponsor children in impoverished nations around the world, support active and veteran members of the military, and countless other acts of good stuff that make a difference in so many lives. Effingham, our feature fire department this issue, recently assigned Luke Johnson, a young boy battling cancer in their community, as an Effingham “Junior Firefighter”. They, and a number of other area departments, even provided a fire truck escort to support Luke on his way to St. Louis for a bone marrow transplant. Good stuff.
There’s another side to this “good” story. When your fire department lets the good stuff flow, you not only change lives, but you get changed also. Research is showing that suicide, divorce, substance abuse, and heart attack rates among firefighters are the highest in the nation. Protective factors for firefighters that have been identified include a belief in oneself, self-esteem, family and social support, positive coping skills, spirituality and a sense of purpose/belonging. All of these protective factors are strengthened in some way by every good thing that a firefighter and/or a fire department do. So don’t limit your good. God has filled your heart with good stuff, so let it flow into every avenue that He has prepared for it. When you do, you are a blessing to others and you are helping/protecting yourself and your fire department from the negative effects of stress inherent in your fire service calling. If I can be of any help or encouragement to you or your fire department (or if you want to invite me to your “good stuff”), please don’t hesitate to let me know.
About the Author: Kevin Coffey is a 30 year retired Chicago firefighter and has been in the fire service for 34 years. He is currently a firefighter/chaplain for the Paxton Fire Department and the chaplain for the Illinois Firefighters Association. He is also a field instructor for the Illinois Fire Service Institute. Kevin and his wife, Lorraine, have six children and six grandchildren and reside in rural central Illinois. You may contact Kevin through his EMAIL.
Read Kevin’s other writing: Called to Serve