An Extra Layer of Support, Service: Volunteer Chaplains Care to First Responders, Firefighters and Families

The nonprofit, founded in 2014, includes more than 17 volunteer chaplains from Spokane and surrounding counties that respond to situations including wildfires, house fires and car crashes.

by Amy Edelen, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash. / May 17, 2018

(TNS) - The Inland Northwest Fire Chaplains, a nonprofit group that provides care to first responders, firefighters and grieving families during medical emergencies, was presented with the 2017 EMS Special Services Award on May 8 by the Spokane County Emergency Medical Services and Trauma Care Council.

The nonprofit, founded in 2014, includes more than 17 volunteer chaplains from Spokane and surrounding counties that respond to situations including wildfires, house fires and car crashes.

The chaplains, who responded to the Freeman High School shooting last year, assist first responders until additional support arrives at the scene. They also connect people affected by tragedy with a church of their denomination, or additional resources, such as the American Red Cross for temporary housing if their home sustains fire damage.

“Our primary responsibility is to comfort, care and connect with people along the way,” said Ken McNaughton, chaplain for the Spokane Valley Fire Department. “We want to let (people) know we are there to take care of them. We’ll be with them until help arrives.”

McNaughton, who was instrumental in founding the Inland Northwest Fire Chaplains, is retiring from the organization May 23.

McNaughton, who is coordinator for the Spokane Regional Critical Incident Stress Management Team, spent 22 years in fire service with Colfax Fire and Rescue before retiring from the department in 2007. He volunteered as a chaplain for several fire departments before joining the Spokane Valley Fire Department as a volunteer chaplain in 2015.

McNaughton is ordained through Victory Faith Fellowship in Spokane Valley. After serving as a missile facility technician in the U.S. Air Force, he attended Northern Michigan University where he earned degrees in education and history.

He completed a bachelor’s degree in theology from Christian Life School of Theology and served as a senior pastor at his church after retirement from Colfax Fire and Rescue. He received a Master Fire Chaplain certificate in 2016.

Aaron McNally, who is lead chaplain for Spokane County Fire District 8, will take McNaughton’s place as president of the Inland Northwest Chaplains.

McNally said filling McNaughton’s shoes will be a process, but he sees great value in volunteer services that chaplains provide.

“Ken is a great chaplain and a good friend. The first responders rely on him,” he said. “He has several years of experience and a true passion for providing comfort and care for individuals in critical incidents.”

McNally said the group will continue its involvement with planning and hosting a 60-hour training session for the National Police and Fire Chaplain Academy in Spokane that’s attended by fire and police chaplains from all over the U.S.

Last year, more than 32 chaplains graduated from the academy’s first session in Spokane.

The chaplains in the training academy learn safety skills, stress management, fire operations, handling line of duty deaths, notifying next of kin and coordinating with medical examiners.

“(Being a chaplain) has a spiritual component to it. The chaplain’s responsibility is to connect people with the faith they practice,” he said. “If they don’t practice faith we try to connect them with resources.”

McNaughton said he hopes the organization will continue assisting firefighters and connecting community members with services they need in a time of crisis.

“I hope more fire chiefs will see the value of having a chaplain in their toolbox,” McNaughton said. “We aren’t licensed counselors, but we can connect people with those who are.”


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