By Pastor Gary Cortese, Chaplain – Byron Fire District

In June of 2000, after meeting with key officials and a time of training and preparation, the Byron Police and Fire Chaplains were issued fire pagers and officially began responding to calls that could benefit from the presence of a chaplain. It was the desire of two local pastors, Rev. Randy Snider and Rev. Gary Cortese to offer spiritual and emotional support on traumatic and difficult calls while augmenting the service provided by the Police and Fire Departments.

Chaplain Cortese explaining the reason for "First Due Family" to the area Chaplains
Through the years much has changed. The original group of several clergymen has become a small division of two ordained pastors (Gary and Randy) and a police officer, who completed a training course through his church. Many more hours of additional training and research continue to help ensure the chaplain division remains compliant with standard protocol and procedures nationwide and, more importantly, remain an effective holistic resource for the Chief.

Today Byron Fire Chaplain Division is providing the framework for Police and Fire-Rescue Chaplains in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin to organize, unite and train closer to home. As a faith-based resource, chaplains are an integral part of the fire and police communities, providing holistic support on-scene. However, it was decided that a group of Chaplains for Chaplains would further benefit our respective districts and enhance the services we provide. On November 19th of 2012 the first Meeting of Chaplains was hosted by Byron Fire Chaplain Division with six area fire departments represented from two MABAS Divisions (8 & 18).

On Wednesday, May 15, 2013 the Chaplain Division of Byron Fire hosted a third meeting of Chaplains. Fire Districts represented included Harlem-Roscoe and Scales-Mound in Jo-Davies County, among others. The Rockford Police and Fire Chaplains were committed to various Police Week activities but have expressed their desire to join us at future meetings.

Subsequent agendas and activities will be based upon the 5-fold purpose of this group and is explained in the following acronym, F.A.C.T.S. (of who we are and what we’re trying to accomplish): Our group of Chaplains for Chaplains exists to provide Fellowship, Accountability, Credibility, Training and Support. It was decided that we should begin meeting quarterly to achieve our goals but will adjust as deemed necessary. Not only will our resources be better organized but we’re also committed to educating administrators on the importance and unique dynamics of a chaplain program, offering start-up assistance and continued support for other departments and districts as well.

A 4-minute video was produced as a tribute to Chaplains everywhere and can be viewed on YouTube by searching: Chaplains Helping First Responders or going simply using the video below.