Embodying hope to heal a community
Recently we reported on the more than 90 fires that affected parts of NSW over the past few weeks and the compassionate role chaplains played in the recovery stages. Nicholas Cole was one of the chaplains involved in supporting the community through this difficult time.
Nicholas has served as volunteer Fire service chaplain for the past 11 years and a firefighter for 17 years. Last June, Nicholas was recruited to fill the role of acting Senior Chaplain for three weeks this February. When the time arrived who would have thought it would be the start of the worst fire weather NSW had been hit with. The following is his reflection during that time.
The role of the Senior Chaplain
The Rural Fire Service (RFS) chaplain receives a copy of all operational briefs, weather forecasts, injury reports, near misses reports—about 50 a day. The senior chaplain is on call 24/7 and so they have an RFS designated car that is used even when not going to a job as you can be called and deployed. We work closely with the Critical Incident Stress Support Unit (CISS) who bring psychological first aid to tragic situations. We work like the right and left hands of care for the body of the RFS organisation.
The chaos begins
On Sunday the 12th February I took worship in the morning and came home looking at the evening service. I started going through the emails and phone calls and it was soon apparent that the fires in the Hunter Valley and over towards Dunedoo were causing major damage and stress. One of the firefighters lost his house and stock. Another area was up near Kempsey where houses were being lost.
In my hand-over the senior chaplain had said, “Nich, if you feel you need to be there go as God will have a good reason for you being there.”
So I headed up to Merriwa were the fire was impacting Cassilis. When I arrived I was greeted by a person who asked why the chaplain was here as they had not asked for it. I noted I was here for support, hugs and prayer and they could choose what they needed. Tears and hugs was the first response with lots of thanks. I had a choice to be here on the ground or at Homebush in the operations centre. But for me, this was the place to be.
This was not my day to fight the fire; this was a day to be a person of hope for the community.
A grass fire caused by lightening started and soon I was transporting extra crews to the fire ground. One did not have their jacket, gloves, googles or flash hood so I gave mine to them. This was not my day to fight the fire; this was a day to be a person of hope for the community.
The week that followed just seemed to be my baptism of fire. A firefighter was flown to Sydney with burns but God is good and he returned home on Friday many days and weeks earlier than expected. We had some members pass tragically on their farm, not due to fighting fires but we deployed a chaplain to bring support. We had the fires down in Queanbeyan where again a member ended up in hospital, and again God is good and he miraculously headed home the next afternoon.
From the ashes…
Our country in all of beauty holds a ferocious beast that occasionally gets out of control and the bushfires are the resulting devastation. At the end of my first couple of weeks I have travelled some 2500km, seen hundreds of people and still have not run out of hugs. I have given out nearly 1000 packets of gum and mints thanks to Wriggleys. I have prayed prayers of hope with those who are broken. I have asked God to bring healing and restoration on many occasions. I have drunk some fine coffee and shared in some great conversations. I have even kicked a footy with a crew or two as they waited for deployment. Lastly, when I was tired and had to travel home I asked God to keep my eyes open wide so I drove through a hail storm and smiled at how God answered that prayer.
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