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Caring for Dinosaurs

Now, I don't mean disrespect by the term “dinosaurs” in this article. The term was presented to me by one of my older firefighters who was referring to himself. He has allowed me to use it, and so I do with all love and respect.

Back on my “old crew” I worked with two lovable, crusty, devoted, and knowledgeable dinosaurs. You know the type. They have been in every type of fire known to man and extinguished them single-handedly. They are the ones who rode tailboard and knew the ones who rode horses. They have seen every model of AED and watched so many people live or die during valiant life-saving attempts. They have disentangled so many types of cars, they should have been auto wreckers. They are the ones who say, “We have done it this way and we will do it this way forever.” And, it seems, they have opinions and complaints about everything.

I have truly loved the dinosaurs in my life. These firefighters did a lot to be commended. Those who survived and stayed in the fire service long enough to be dinosaurs are special people. They taught me not only skills, but character and shown me what it means to be a firefighter and, because of that, what it means to be a fire chaplain.

But how, as a chaplain, do I care for these folks? The Bible directs me to honor my elders (Leviticus 19:32, 1 Timothy 5:1). And as a fire chaplain, that is my heart.

It’s good to remember how much they have seen and done. When you hear their complaints, remember these folks served when the concepts of PTSD, vicarious trauma, and compassion fatigue were unknown or never applied to members of the fire service. This may mean, the spiritual, emotional, or psychological wounds they received have not been addressed or healed. Telling the story or airing the complaint may be part of their pathway toward healing.

It’s also good to remember these folks may have suffered physical wounds from our demanding job, year after year, along with the pain and suffering of growing older. Their bones and joints no longer allow them to do what they did in their youth. Because of this, many of them don't feel well. So, that adds to the complaints.

As a chaplain, how can I help?

1. Earn their respect.

They come from a generation where respect came with a title. But if we want their respect, we can also work to earn it by showing them we care.

2. Encourage them to get what they need.

Dinosaurs are tired. Let’s encourage them to get regular physicals, rest, and to keep up with whatever it takes to maintain their health. It’s hard to deal with spiritual, emotional, or psychological issues when you just don’t feel well.

3. Listen and treat them with honor.

Listening is key. It is the one task a chaplain must do extremely well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the same fire or rescue story multiple times. Remember, wounds aren't always physical. Wounds can deeply affect the spirit and talking may be the best way to deal with these wounds.

4. And most of all...

Don't forget to keep them in your prayers.

Lastly, we are taking over the reins from these folks, so let's not dismiss them. Some may have already retired from the fire service, but their hearts have never left the job they loved. They may not be current on the new tools and tactics; the fire service has changed and advanced during the last few decades. Yet knowledge, wisdom, and experience are worth a lot.

Let’s take care of our dinosaurs. Let’s be available to them. Listen to them. These brothers and sisters deserve our respect. They brought us to where we are today.

Chris Wade

Vice President

South Carolina Public Safety Chaplains Association

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