Chaplain is 'First Responders' First Responder'

Either local dispatch calls him when police or fire agencies request him or he self-dispatches to structure fires, fatal accidents and pedestrian-versus-vehicles.

by Annie Charnley Eveland, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Wash. / February 8, 2017

(TNS) - Once area first responders have ministered at the scene of fires, accidents and other traumatic events, who attends to them?

One of those folks wearing the emergency services ministering mantle is Chaplain Cole Massey of College Place. Because he runs a window cleaning operation and computer service, his time is flexible enough to attend to area firefighters, deputies, police officers, paramedics and state troopers as needed.

“I’m a first responder to the first responders,” he emailed in reply to my inquiries. “I absorb the emotional trauma that is present on most scenes.”

Either local dispatch calls him when police or fire agencies request him or he self-dispatches to structure fires, fatal accidents and pedestrian-versus-vehicles.

Neither a pastor nor a priest, rather he said he guides the responders to the next step in traumatic processing.

“Our community has great spiritual leaders and I’m not here to take that from the local church. I’m purposed for people’s worst and best day of their lives and then I get them to the next stepping stone on their journey, which could be physical, emotional or spiritual rehab. I’m not a counselor like Father Steve Woolley, I’m ‘peer support’ and the best cheerleader outside of their spouses,” Cole said.

He said such constant calls can wear on responders’ thoughts and perspectives.

“Firefighters and police officers are my greatest heroes because they are constantly tested with their ethics, compassion and endurance yet usually are wrapped up in political policies that make their day-to-day jobs harder. I guess I’m a CHO (Chief Heart Officer) but the College Place Fire and Police department calls me “Chappy.”

“Dispatchers (the FIRST First Responders) call me out on the radio by my call sign ‘Chaplain 551.’”

He’s also helped the Kennewick Fire and Police, Richland, Pasco and Benton County personnel.

Acquaintance Dixie Ferguson of Walla Walla said the fire department has been unusually busy of late, along with the inclement weather.

“Their skills, hard work and dedication have been a real eye opener for me. As first responders, I suppose I have certain expectations and natural assumptions that they are just out there doing their job,” she said.

“I’ve been learning much more about the role of the volunteer fire/police chaplain Cole Massey. His support role is amazing, the long hours, compassion and commitment to serve in many difficult circumstances: e.g., suicides, car wrecks, ER crises, issues with first responders in their personal stresses, etc. Cole never knows what he is going to be called to do but volunteers willingly,” Dixie said.

Cole, who lives in College Place with wife Lacey and their two dogs, has served as a chaplain here since 2013 after completing a national certification program at the Washington State Patrol headquarters. Also a certified firefighter chaplain, he has understudied outgoing County Chaplain Steve Woolley, who remains an active mentor.

Cole became an ordained minister in McCall, Idaho, in 2008, led youth ministry teams and served young people in the local church setting for about 10 years.

His life experiences range from running an award-winning restaurant in Phoenix, Ariz., and four years as a sponsored snowboarder for Volcom, Burton and Dragon. And he ran a large event-planning business for high-end clubs in Scottsdale and Tempe, Ariz.

But after his snowboard clothing company failed he sold his businesses and moved to McCall in 2005 for a change in lifestyle. He and Lacey met in 2006.

“We loved our little tourist town; I worked a seasonal job as a snowmobile guide for Tamarack Resort and spent time growing our church’s youth group,” he said.

When the economy tumbled in 2008, the Masseys looked for opportunities beyond their ski town that took them to Denver in 2010 and to Richland in January 2011 for job possibilities that didn’t pan out.

While searching fruitlessly for work, he started soliciting window washing services, “a trade I had picked up years before,” door-to-door, also to no avail.

Then the Masseys visited friends in Walla Walla one day and he struck up a conversation with the owner of a window-cleaning company who offered him a job.

They moved to Walla Walla in June 2011, found full-time jobs, a church to call home and served as youth leaders for four years.

During that time, he completed the Walla Walla County Fire District 4 training academy and pursued a fire science degree at Walla Walla Community College, secured his commercial driver’s license endorsement and branched out on his own by starting Professional Window Services with a ladder donated by Walla Walla city firefighter/paramedic friend Jay Jones.

Cole started Eclat Creative Group, a social media management company, and Jont, a pedicab taxi service.

“I have found the economy in Walla Walla and surrounding areas to be as fertile as the soil this community was established on and I have been blessed in my business dealings with many wonderful Walla Walla residents,” he said.

He teaches social media classes at WWCC and for Junior Achievement at College Place High School.

“I have a heart for entrepreneurs, which I guess is my current identity.”

“Self-employment has given me the opportunity/flexibility to serve as a volunteer firefighter and fire and police chaplain.

“Our First Responders see parts of our community that most people don’t see,” he said.

The Incident Management Team brought Cole out the day after firefighters Tom Zbyszewki, 20, Andrew Zajac, 26, and Richard Wheeler, 31, died in the Twisp (Wash.) River Fire on Aug. 19, 2015. Cole stayed at the camp with remaining wildland firefighters for two weeks.

“I then was able to visit many other camps as a chaplain to ‘take the temperature’ of the morale and just encourage our heroes. I’ve never encountered a First Responder that didn’t miss their family.”

Certified in critical stress incident management, Cole can gauge the situation of a room, scene or the aftermath of a traumatic event.

He’s a member of the Walla Walla School District Crisis Team,and Walla Walla Emergency Management ensures he’s “constantly getting training to stay relevant in crisis management.”

“We all have times of crisis, but it’s how we respond to the blunt force of it that dictates our emotional success and perspective in life. I have not done this well at times in my own life so I have a great chaplain in Father Woolley and a great pastor and church that supports me in Kennewick called New Vintage Church.”

“I am making a difference by being approachable, accountable and obedient to my chiefs, captains and lieutenants.”

Once he arrives at a scene, Cole checks in with the incident commander as to where they want him and what he can help with.

“Sometimes that includes putting on my fire gear and going in or getting coffee for the crew when it’s 2 a.m. and minus 10 degrees out. Other times, I put on my chaplain hat and help do death notifications or find lodging and dry clothes for those who lost their homes or loved ones by suicide, homicide or other forms of death. I’m not a coroner. I don’t have the grace for that like Richard Greenwood does. I’m a ‘do what I’m told to’ chaplain for our First Responders.”

He feels called by the Lord to do the work.

“He gives me the grace to spread His love to any race, sex, religion or age. I’m not here to convert people to my church. I’m here to hold their hand until we get them to their shepherd or their faith-based community. This calling has reminded me that ... we are all on a spiritual journey of some sort and other people’s journeys remind me that I can finish my race if I have a good community around me.”

Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at annieeveland@wwub.com or afternoons at 526-8313.

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©2017 Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (Walla Walla, Wash.)

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