All Clear - A Firefighter Health & Wellness Podcast

Faith & Fire: The Role Of The Fire Chaplin With Guest Brad Hunt

December 08, 2023 Travis McGaha / Eric Stephenson Season 1 Episode 21
Faith & Fire: The Role Of The Fire Chaplin With Guest Brad Hunt
All Clear - A Firefighter Health & Wellness Podcast
More Info
All Clear - A Firefighter Health & Wellness Podcast
Faith & Fire: The Role Of The Fire Chaplin With Guest Brad Hunt
Dec 08, 2023 Season 1 Episode 21
Travis McGaha / Eric Stephenson

Have you ever wondered about the mental health challenges faced firefighters? Join us, Travis and Eric, as we sit down with an esteemed guest, Brad Hunt, an ordained minister, firefighter, and the chaplain for Concord Fire Department, to shed light on this often overlooked aspect. Brad gives us an insider's perspective on the crucial role of a Fire Chaplain in providing much-needed mental and spiritual support in the high-pressure world of fire service. He emphasizes the importance of confidentiality, trust, and building solid relationships to provide effective support.

We further explore how faith, spirituality, and chaplaincy services intersect to bolster the mental health and well-being of firefighters. Brad shares his insights on how to kickstart a chaplaincy program in a department and the invaluable advantage of networking with other chaplains. We confront the stigma surrounding mental health in the first responder community head-on, discussing how a chaplain's calming presence can help. Listen in as we underscore the importance of a chaplain who truly understands and connects with first responders. You don't want to miss this enlightening conversation!

Your one stop shop for graphic design, screen printing, embroidery and more.  Proud sponsor of the All Clear Podcast.

Use the code All Clear to get 10% off your first order.

studioprintshop.com

Support the Show.

Thanks for listening to All Clear!

You can contact us with questions, suggestions or just to say hi at our website
allclearpodcast.com


Also Visit Our Sponsors - Studio Print Shop at
studioprintshop.com

All Clear - Firefighter Health & Wellness
Help us continue making great content and get a shout out on an upcoming episode
Starting at $3/month
Support
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Have you ever wondered about the mental health challenges faced firefighters? Join us, Travis and Eric, as we sit down with an esteemed guest, Brad Hunt, an ordained minister, firefighter, and the chaplain for Concord Fire Department, to shed light on this often overlooked aspect. Brad gives us an insider's perspective on the crucial role of a Fire Chaplain in providing much-needed mental and spiritual support in the high-pressure world of fire service. He emphasizes the importance of confidentiality, trust, and building solid relationships to provide effective support.

We further explore how faith, spirituality, and chaplaincy services intersect to bolster the mental health and well-being of firefighters. Brad shares his insights on how to kickstart a chaplaincy program in a department and the invaluable advantage of networking with other chaplains. We confront the stigma surrounding mental health in the first responder community head-on, discussing how a chaplain's calming presence can help. Listen in as we underscore the importance of a chaplain who truly understands and connects with first responders. You don't want to miss this enlightening conversation!

Your one stop shop for graphic design, screen printing, embroidery and more.  Proud sponsor of the All Clear Podcast.

Use the code All Clear to get 10% off your first order.

studioprintshop.com

Support the Show.

Thanks for listening to All Clear!

You can contact us with questions, suggestions or just to say hi at our website
allclearpodcast.com


Also Visit Our Sponsors - Studio Print Shop at
studioprintshop.com

Speaker 1:

Faith and Fire the role of the Fire Chaplain. This week, on All Clear, we'll be discussing the important role of the Fire Chaplain in the modern fire service with yes, brad Hunt, I'm Travis, you got Eric with us. How you doing? My friend? Doing good, excellent. That's good to hear, and we are honored, may I say, enamored, to have a dear friend of the show, dear friend of both of us. That would be Mr Brad Hunt. How are you doing today, brad? I'm doing well and you, I am doing spectacular. So today I'm hoping we can talk about a very important aspect of the peer support program when it comes to whether it be mental health, physical health, whatever, and that's the importance of chaplaincy, and I know you are the chaplain here at Concord. Would you like to give us a little bit of background about who you are and how this appeals to you and why you are qualified to speak on this topic?

Speaker 2:

I've been the chaplain for Concord Fire Department since 2002. Went to Kentucky Christian College, which is now Kentucky Christian University, became an ordained minister, also been a firefighter with Concord Fire Department for 16 years and in fire prevention for six, and I can definitely see the need for mental health support and spiritual support and this line of work?

Speaker 1:

Oh, absolutely, it's a very important thing. But I guess the first question out of the gate about chaplaincy people think about Father Mulcahy, for example, on MASH, about how he was the chaplain for the unit and things like that. We talk about jocularity, a lot Jocularity. Yes, how truthful is the Father Mulcahy? And you have to have a certain age to understand that. How truthful is that role compared to what you do for the fire department? I know there is a spiritual side, but then there's also a whole nother side that I'm hoping we can delve into today and I think that's kind of the thrust of what we're doing.

Speaker 2:

The whole idea of chaplaincy, especially when you're talking either military or police, fire or EMS. To have a chaplain, you want somebody who can actually embed in the line of work that they're doing. Father Mulcahy was at the surgical hospital and for me, being around the firefighters, having a relationship outside of whether something is going wrong. You want to talk with them on a regular basis, joke around with them, just be there so they know who you are. It builds a comfort zone so that way when they do have something part of life, come up, they have a comfort zone where they can come up and talk to you and not feel threatened.

Speaker 1:

Very sure, and I know one of the things that Eric has taught me since we've started doing this and hanging out is the fact that when a person is involved in the line of work that they are supporting, they're much more apt to be supportive of the needs and understand what a firefighter needs, or whether it be police or whatever the case, and that is important and it's good that you have that experience to be able to address what we see going on. But, from your experience, what are the biggest challenges that firefighters are facing that require that extra level of support that you can provide?

Speaker 2:

With being an ordained minister and a chaplain. That gives me a bond of confidentiality that if somebody talks to me about something I am bound by confidentiality, where I can't go and say hey someone, someone just came into the room and told me this. So for them to come and talk to me about something, they know that it's not going to go anywhere else because there's still a stigma of mental health, or if someone has a problem, then they just not sucking it up and they're not tough enough to do the job, which isn't the case.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, absolutely. And Eric, I know that you said that you've had some experience with your team with the chaplaincy services that are offered through the first responder peer support network. So what questions do you or can maybe you think of that? I haven't thought of that that we could ask Brad about the roles, because I think you guys have worked together on a few things as well, particularly with the mental health summit down there in South Carolina earlier this year. Just a fantastic group.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, and that's actually where I met Brad. Three years ago was down at the behavioral health summit put on by the Low Country Firefighter Support Team and we've been in contact ever since. And the role of the chaplains, where that fits into the whole program. Things like that is a unique piece of the puzzle, so to speak. That were rough gruff first responders and things don't get to us and we all know that's BS. Things do get to us and trying to find somebody with that confidentiality, like Brad said, is pretty important and it's an integral part of what we do to make sure that our people, our first responders, are going to be prepared, that they're going to be taken care of after events, after incidents, whatever else. And it to me it's a completely different side. Brad is embedded, he's got both sides of the fence, he's got the spiritual side of being a chaplain, but he also knows what the work of a first responder is and sometimes you need that other side if that makes sense.

Speaker 3:

And I really don't know how to paint the picture for people, but the common effect of being able to talk to a chaplain other than maybe just a peer support person or somebody else in your organization is completely different the perspective that they have, that they tried to bring my experience of bringing things to a different light in Open other avenues, other doors, of hey, the problem might not be as big as what you think it is, or that you have to have faith that things are gonna work out, whether we know or we don't know what the outcomes gonna be.

Speaker 3:

That they can Make us see that, hey, take a leap of faith, put some trust in us and we're gonna get through it. Good, battering, different, and I find that being a Very calming effect. I have a couple chaplains on my team. I talked to him on a pretty regular basis and I Always get this weird feeling afterwards that man, that that was a good phone call. I needed to hear that from a different side and I don't know if that makes sense to you it does and I think one of the things that that is a commonality in Brad.

Speaker 1:

You remember Ray Allen Well, he always used to say the three F's of the fire service faith, family, fire department, yep, and in that order. And there is a spiritual aspect, I think, to the majority of firefighters and it's not necessarily hey, I'm Catholic, you're Jewish or anything like that, but it's the fact that they believe in something bigger than themselves and that has to be addressed on some level, especially when you start talking about recovery and things like that. But my question, following up to what Eric was talking about, what we're not asking for specific cases or anything like that. I was gonna give one about you. No, okay, excellent, I have had services myself. He's never Just messing. But what types of things Is it okay to talk to your chaplain about?

Speaker 2:

Basically anything that's gone on in life. It doesn't have to be some kind of earth shattering problem that you're going through. It's just like having a relationship with a friend. You can go up and talk to him about a sports game. You can go up and talk to him about Whatever.

Speaker 2:

I love jokes. We tell each other jokes and it lets the people that you serve know that you're a human and not just some Person that you only go to in time of crisis or time of need. I'd like the way what Eric was talking about. When you talk to people, some people think, well, maybe this isn't that big of a deal. But as a chaplain or as a peer supporter, when somebody comes to you, it's like them calling 911. When you respond Somebody, you as a responder, you may go and they may have their Hand stuck in a jar and it's not that big of a deal. But to that person at that point in time, that is a earth shattering moment. That is the worst thing that's ever happened to him. Our job is to help them put things into perspective and Help them through whatever Problem it is.

Speaker 1:

So, with that being said, it may not be the biggest, most earth shattering thing that comes up. But here's another important question, and Eric and I have talked about this particularly with Mike cancer, larry, who we were talking about. You don't want to wait till you get to level 10 to try to calm down. Do you do maintenance Basically? Can I come talk to you about Something that's on my mind even before it happens, or maybe something that might be a problem for me, because sometimes we feel a little anxious About something? Is it okay to talk to you before the car crash?

Speaker 2:

so to speak Absolutely From the fire service. We go out and do pre-plans where you go out and you see the things that are in your response area and you go and find out the areas that would be dangerous to a firefighter if something would happen. So just the maintenance of you're doing checks on yourself, okay. If this happens or this has a potential of happening, how would I handle it If ABC comes into effect and getting some ways to support those or deal with those or some strategies on how to cope with whatever may come up is good because you want to be prepared.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely, and in the fire service forever, we've tended to be more reactive than proactive, but I think this podcast, for example, is born out of we're trying to be proactive in preventing a lot of issues that we're examining now, whether it be mental health or cancer exposures or the fact that I'm not eating. Well, taking care of yourself is a very important part of preventing a problem and then also recovering from the problem. Yeah, so what things have and we're talking about you in particular right now what things have you put into place? What things do you do have made a difference in the people you serve, whether it be here at Concord or even because I know you help people outside of Concord too? Well, what things have you put in place that have been of help?

Speaker 2:

to you. I try to monitor the radio. If I hear a call that when I was on the truck that I would consider to be very stressful, I try to be at the station when that truck comes back, not necessarily to sit there and go, hey, are you guys okay and just, but just sitting there and talking with them and then throughout the process of normal communication work in man, that sounded like a messed up call. You guys all right, or is there anything bothering you about that or just trying to get them to talk about it? Anytime that there's a big fire or anything, they always go through a critique or a debrief, and that should be, I think, for every call. That is very stressful.

Speaker 2:

I had a captain before I came off the truck to come to prevention that every time we got in the call it didn't matter if it was just gone up and picking up grandma off the floor because she couldn't get up herself. We would critique the call and the truck on the way back what went well, what didn't go well, what would you do differently? Or if you were running this call, how would you change it? I think that's. I'd like to be there for the people when they first come back and that also lets you know if something needs to happen further on down the line, whether it's a defusing or a debriefing, or if somebody's really having a hard time with it. We have some resources that we can. I can give them a number and I have them call several people and get them the help that they need.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, Excellent and I know that you're very proactive in doing stuff like that and I'm not going to talk a lot about the case, but I know you and I worked a fire not too long ago as investigators and the way that you were engaged, not just with me and with the other investigators, but how you actually engaged with the different firefighters and folks that were there on scene. I could see that your presence brought a calming effect on what was happening there. And that's not just me being nice to you. I genuinely Was that the sleepy at 20. Now, right, yeah, exactly, yeah, all right, thank you, I appreciate that Absolutely. But, yeah, in all honesty, just the presence there, even if you're working, we were shoveling together.

Speaker 1:

There was a calming effect there, but Eric was also pulled in on that situation as well and he was able to start contributing and I know that a week later we did a big formal event to address that and it's one of those things that I can't give enough importance to that with the chaplaincy, the fact that you're present there on scene, not even in a spiritual capacity necessarily, but you're there. They know that if they feel bad, they can talk to you or if something really pops up. Okay, he saw me when I was in this condition. That presence, I know, is very important and that cannot be understated it is very important that the presence of knowing that chaplain services are available.

Speaker 3:

Whenever I have peer contacts, that usually gets brought up in conversation at some point. Are you a spiritual person? Not necessarily that it makes a difference what their denomination is or anything else, but are they spiritual? Do they have a chaplain? Do they have a priest, Somebody at the church that they talk to? And a lot of times the answer is no. And that kind of surprises me sometimes. Being able to have that person again that you put your trust and your faith in, that can look at things from a different perspective than what we are. And this might be, looking at that particular moment, that calming effect, and we've said that three or four times now. But I do have a specific question for Brad. When it comes to asking those questions, especially from a peer team side, somebody that's maybe unsure about their faith or is questioning their faith, what advice can we give people? How can we maybe not necessarily make them see the light? But what advice could you give for somebody that's maybe questioning their faith or their belief in a higher power? For me.

Speaker 2:

I believe it would be talking about your own personal experience. This is how I get through something like this, this is my relationship with God or just telling how your relationship or your spirituality has helped you through XYZ events in your own life. Everybody thinks when they do witnessing or any kind of counseling or whatever, they have to know all the answers, and you don't, Nine times out of 10, just telling them how you went with it or how you deal with it, as you're giving them a roadmap or something to follow.

Speaker 1:

So I think that brings up and this is follow up question what Eric was asking. People have different forms of beliefs. People have different forms of religion that they subscribe to or maybe even not. How do you define the term faith in that context? Help people get in touch with their faith. What's your definition of that?

Speaker 2:

I go to the Bible for it, where faith is the evidence of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. So it's a very strong underlying belief in something and every day we have faith in something. When you came in and sat in your chair, you didn't do a 21 point inspection to make sure it wasn't gonna fall when you sat down, you just sat down. You had faith that that chair was gonna do what it needed to do. When you get in your car, you have faith that it's gonna start up and get you where you need to go. So everybody has faith. So when I deal with people and I talk to people all the time who do not have the same faith, the same faith system that I have, but again, I try to tell them at least how my faith helps me.

Speaker 1:

And I think that's an important thing, because there are people that don't necessarily prescribe to a formalized set of beliefs and it can go either way. So the chaplaincy extends beyond just oh, I'm this religion, you're that? Sorry, doesn't work. There is a support mechanism that goes beyond that. But I know that here in the city of North Carolina we have the chaplain 101 program, different things like that. There are lots of departments and you have to remember this podcast isn't just being listened to in North Carolina. But as we talk about chaplains that are maybe thinking about coming into that role in their departments, whether it be here or California, anywhere in between, what advice can you give as an active chaplain to those that are maybe trying to start a program in their department, whether it be a volunteer department, paid department, whatever the case?

Speaker 2:

The first thing they can do if they want to start a chaplaincy program. If you go to the BillyGramorg, there's a tab in there. It talks about becoming a chaplain and they can walk you through the steps of becoming a chaplain. Another thing you can do is get with a local or another local jurisdiction that has a chaplain and try to partner up with them where they can give you some support and give you some of the things that they had to work through in order to become a chaplain. In that area, networking, just like in any job, networking is huge. Yes, who you know can help Exactly because I don't know all the answers. I don't know that anybody knows all the answers, but if you get a group of people, you can get more questions answered than on your own, exactly exactly, very good.

Speaker 1:

And I know, eric, you have quite a bit of experience with chaplaincy through your organization. What else can you think of that? Maybe I haven't thought about to ask Brad on that.

Speaker 3:

in line with that, how important is it to have your chaplain understand the work of what first responders do. So starting up a chaplaincy program going and maybe putting the interest out in your organization of hey, we're looking to start a chaplaincy program, is there anybody interested in jumping on board with us? Or just go down to your local church or whatever the venue is and see about recruiting somebody to come be a fire department chaplain. Do you think that there's anything specific we should be looking for when we're starting a chaplaincy program?

Speaker 2:

I think when you're in a fire department or emergency services or anything like that. Having a chaplain that understands the job that you do or the lingo and the terminology that you have, that's a big benefit. Now there are some churches that will come out actively seeking hey, how can we help you all? We have somebody who's interested in being a chaplain. That does have its benefit. But when you go through a specific chaplain training program, you learn that, hey, even though I may be a Christian or I may go to a Christian church, I may go to a Lutheran church, maybe a Jehovah's Witness, I may be somebody, maybe Buddhist somebody, maybe whatever. You have to know how to talk to those people, because I went to a Bible college. But when I went through my training I learned a little about a lot of the religions that are out there. I don't claim to be an expert on any of them, but just to know where their belief systems are, what's important to them, what. Some things that you can say to one group is fine, but if you say it to another group it's offensive. And the whole time you're trying to help somebody, your biggest thing is you don't want to turn them off or throw up another wall because it was huge for them to come up and talk to you in the first place. So if you drive up any kind of dividing wall, then you run the risk of that person not seeking any more help but definitely having someone who understands the lingo.

Speaker 2:

When I went through my first critical incident stress debriefing course back in 2002, there was a huge group of people and the majority of them were clinicians, psychiatrists and ministers.

Speaker 2:

There was two firefighters it was me and another guy going through the class and when we did our role play scenario I started talking about the BRTs. They had no idea what a BRT was the big red truck, or talking about somebody who is DRT, who's dead right there, or circling the drain, meaning they're not doing well. But you're sitting there trying to give these kind of scenarios to your people and they stop you and say nobody talks like that or we don't understand the humor that you're trying to do in this, but we wish you'd take it more seriously. So it is beneficial to have a chaplain or a peer supporter, somebody who knows the lingo, knows the humor, no matter how dark it gets. No matter how dark it gets, because a lot of times that humor and the dark humor, is that person trying their best to normalize a situation that is not normal and to draw a parallel to that through the cancer side, what we've done with the Cancer Alliance.

Speaker 1:

There have been cancer specialists that we've worked with in the past that have attempted to instruct firefighters, in this case on cancer. Guess what. They didn't understand the job and if you don't have an understanding, typically a firefighter is not going to talk to someone who is not equal to them in their understanding or, like you mentioned, the lingo they use and things like that. So there is a huge buy-in by firefighters when they can talk to someone who walks the walk they walk or, you know, has an understanding of what they do.

Speaker 2:

Yep, when someone comes to talk to you, they want to feel like they're being heard, not being judged or spoken to, yeah, preached down to. And whether it's somebody who's gone through a trying to deal with a bad call or calling you up and saying, hey, the doctor just delivered me some really bad news, or somebody saying, hey, I'm having trouble at home, or hey, I had this really good thing happen, it doesn't matter. If somebody come up and talk to you, typically I want them to know first off that this is not going to go anywhere. A lot of times they'll say I don't care if somebody finds out, and then I say that's fine if it comes from you, but it's not going to come from me.

Speaker 2:

The most morbid class I think anyone could ever take in college was one that I had to take for my degree. It's a class I did not want to take, but it is the class that has helped me the most in my career. It was called On Death and Dying by Dr Tom Lawson and it talked about how to relate to people who have had a terminal diagnosis, or the stresses of life, or dealing with people who were at death's door or have just talking with the family after a loved one has passed Hated thinking about going to the class, but when I was in it it became my favorite one, and it's the one that I ended up using the most.

Speaker 1:

The reason I laughed at that? Because I remember you've told that story before and just the title of the class into itself was enough to like oh boy, that sounds like a lot of change in my major yeah, it happens.

Speaker 1:

But just to start wrapping up, I'm going to tell a Brad story of my own, if that's OK. Yes, that's fine. Or should I call you Brandon? No, that's fine. I was at work one day and my parents' address got punched out for a medical call and my dad who's been on the podcast before, he's got some cardiac issues and I remember that I was like, oh boy, I got to go and I left and I was rolling that way and I think I shot past Brad on the way to my parents' house and I think you knew where I was going. So what did a good chaplain do?

Speaker 2:

That's your cue. Oh, oh, that's my cue. First I think I called you and said, hey, what's going on? And you said I'm on the way to my parents' house. There's a medical call there. So I just filed in behind you and drove for your house just to see.

Speaker 1:

With whatever you needed, yeah, and the cool part was my dad's OK, obviously, because we've talked to him since then. But you went in and you talked to my mom and she just talked about how wonderful of an individual you are and how supportive you are. Now, granted, she's not ever been in the fire service. She's a nurse for you know, 800 years, and she referred to you as Brandon repeatedly. I don't know why, but she still apologizes for that. I've been called worse, but today the funny thing about that, though the impact that your presence made, totally unplanned just the support you gave to my mother while my dad's being looked at by EMS and being checked out was huge. So sometimes the support you have to give isn't necessarily to the firefighter or to the EMT or whatever, but it can also be their family or those that are around them, and you would be amazed at how far that goes, but that is one of my favorite Brad stories I like to tell or brand it's depending.

Speaker 1:

Whatever the case may be. Yeah, so thank you, brad, for taking time to talk to us today about chaplaincy and the important role that it plays. But we do have a tradition here on our podcast. I'm not singing, no, you don't have to sing but I am going to ask a question to Eric. And my question, eric why did the skeleton decide to not go skydiving? I don't know? Dramatic pause because he didn't have the guts.

Speaker 3:

Wow.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah.

Speaker 3:

And, by the way, that's all you can say, Brad Wow.

Speaker 2:

I deal with this on a regular basis. I'm in the same room with them. A lot of these jokes come from you and it's your fault.

Speaker 1:

I know, I know, and you've been threatening Bob with harm multiple times from.

Speaker 2:

Eric for that. I didn't. I didn't give the joke away, though, so I I appreciate that.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I ramped up on that one. But so, brad, if folks want to get a hold of you, how can they maybe reach out to you? If they have questions, just call 911 and ask for Brad.

Speaker 2:

No, do not do that. My office number is 704-920-5538. And my cell phone, which I have with me all the time.

Speaker 1:

Are you sure you want to give your cell phone out to the masses?

Speaker 2:

100%. If they need help, my phone's on all the time 704-719-0720. And we'll put that in the notes.

Speaker 1:

But what professional organizations are you affiliated with that they might, that they might benefit from looking into as well?

Speaker 2:

I do. Association of chaplains, fire chaplains, fellowship, Christian firefighters help out now with the low country firefighter support, which is like the best group that I've ever met in my life. They have it really together down there. I think Eric Disapp will cast you a 20 for that. Yeah, the Gerald Mishew who's over this is I don't know, he's an angel walking on earth.

Speaker 1:

Yep, we've had Gerald on here before, and he is truly a special human when it comes to stuff like that.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, between him and K Knoff. I can't say enough about that group down there. Yeah, if you call it either one of those people, you will have support Quick, fast and in a hurry.

Speaker 1:

Yep, that's it. And after I met Eric and started working with him and having him and his organization help out, our peer support we've been doing it's really multiplied the effectiveness of it and, like I said, you are one of the most awesome humans that I know, so I needed to know more people. Yeah, I don't get out often, but in all seriousness, thank you for coming on and I'm sure you'll be back at some point. I'm hoping. I know you have podcast anxiety but I think I do.

Speaker 2:

I'll get back on my medication for it. Okay, very good.

Speaker 1:

All right. Again, thank you guys for listening. You can always reach us at allclearpodcastcom. You can find mine and Eric's contact information there, and we look forward to talking to you soon. And thank you for listening to All Clear. You have been listening to Paul Clear. All Clear is presented by the North Carolina Firefighter Cancer Alliance and the first responders peer support network. This program is hosted and produced by Travis McGathe and Eric Stevenson. Visit our website, allclearpodcastcom, where you can contact us and leave feedback. If you like what you hear, please share this podcast with someone. The opinions of guests do not necessarily represent the views of the podcast. This podcast is recorded with e-script and with technology that is provided by Cortec Computers. We'll see you soon and, as always, light your fire within.

Fire Chaplain Supporting First Responders
Chaplaincy and Faith in Support Services
Chaplains in First Responder Work