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Memorials: Three Ways They Make a Difference

As I was sitting in the fire station one day, a younger firefighter sat down beside me and thought he would pull a fast one on this chaplain. A tradition around our firehouse (and some others) was that if you could pull a challenge coin out of your pocket and put it on the table, and the other person could not, that person would owe you a beer. Not that I was into this tradition, but on this occasion this young firefighter thought he would get the best of me. He didn’t know I carry three of them attached to my keyring. He was a little embarrassed… and a little poorer, after he bought me a six-pack of my favorite root beer.

Everywhere I go, I carry three challenge coins and a handcuff key with me. For me, each one of them is a reminder, or memorial, of where I met God or where he did something special in my life. (And if you stop and ask me and I will tell you a story about each one.) A lot of us do the same thing in public safety. Not only do we have challenge coins, but patches, plaques, memorials, photos and special bells, just to name a few. These can be good things if they cause us to improve who we are as public safety officials.

As a chaplain I think of the ancient Israelites setting up alters and memorials (Genesis 28:10-19, Genesis 33:20, Genesis 35:1-3, Exodus 17:8-16, Exodus 24:4, Joshua 4:1-9). In each case, these monuments reminded them how God met with them and helped them tell the story to the next generation. I feel the same way about mine.

Here are three ways such memorials may motivate us to improve what we do as public safety officials.

1. We remember a time that God did something special in our lives.

While not everyone will look at these memorials this way, people of faith certainly can. For chaplains, memorials can help remind us that God is with us even in the darkest times. This can help us draw closer to God.

2. We retell the story to the next generation.

Stories are very important to us in public safety. Not only can they help provide healing, they also allow departments and stations to share in a common heritage of stressful situations that we overcome and tragedies that brought us closer together. As a chaplain, you need to know those stories. What memorials do you see? What are the stories behind them? What do they mean to the people? Such memorials may even offer you hooks, handles, and redemptive analogies to use in encouraging your first responders.

3. We are reminded of our losses and are encouraged to do better.

In the fire service we learn a lot through our losses. For me, it was the loss of a number of the Prineville Hotshots on the South Canyon Fire (Storm King Mountain) in 1994. I was with the Forest Service. This horrific loss made us reexamine our “can do anything” attitude. The Forest Service has continued to suffer the loss of wildland firefighters, but many were saved because of what we learned through that event. The memorial stands to this day for those who were lost. May we never forget. May we always remember

Chris Wade

Vice President South Carolina Public Safety Chaplains Association

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