Celebrating 10 Years With the Fire Chaplains

         In 1999 six Byron area clergy began discussing ways to assist the Byron Police

            In 1999 six Byron area clergy began discussing ways to assist the Byron Police and Fire Departments with spiritual guidance, counseling, and comfort in times of crises for victims of tragedy.

            Rev. Randy Snider of First Baptist Church and Rev. Gary Cortese of Global Harvest Church assumed the role of co-coordinators and began meeting with Byron Police Sergeant, Jim Wilcox (now retired) and Byron Fire Chief, Steve Walters (now retired). Officials embraced the idea of a chaplain program and the group received full support and encouragement by both departments.

The six clergymen began preparing in early 2000 by attending training sessions with Rev. William Wentink, director of pastoral care at OSF St. Anthony Medical Center, and Chaplain for the Rockford Police and Fire Departments, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Illinois State Police, and Rockford Police Investigator and chaplain liaison, Billy Wilson.

             As co-coordinators, Pastors Snider and Cortese have extensive experience dealing with high-stress emergency situations.  Pastor Snider served as a paid-on-call Firefighter/EMT-I for the Byron Fire District and observed firsthand the need for spiritual ministry to families in crises. Pastor Cortese served as an industrial firefighter for the Emergency Operations Team at a paper manufacturing facility in Oklahoma and also as chaplain to inmates in various facilities including death row and the criminally insane.

            The Byron Chaplain Program officially began on June 1, 2000 to serve as a support system for families in crises and to provide a spiritual presence in difficult times. The fledgling program worked hard to gain acceptance in the community and among emergency service workers. It took time to prove our integrity and to show the need for a program like this to augment the services already provided by our Police and Fire departments.

            Today Pastor Snider and Pastor Cortese remain from the original group. With the addition of Byron Police Officer, Jeff Ziolkowski, the Chaplain Division of The Byron Fire Protection District is a specialized 3-man team focusing on spiritual and emotional support. Available 24 hours a day to help those in need, the Ogle County Sheriff’s Department, the Coroner’s Office and other Fire Departments have also called on us for assistance.

            We participate in Badge Pinning ceremonies of new Firefighters as well as Promotions.  The presence of a Chaplain also helps add dignity and honor to other special functions as well. I’ve even been interviewed on Cable TV and news/talk radio in Westchester County, NY to “brag” about our chaplain program here in Byron!

            Celebrating 10 Years of Service is a huge milestone when most of the original group is gone and administrations have changed. To help commemorate this achievement the Chaplain’s will introduce their newest addition to the Department: The Byron Fire Chaplain Teddy Bear - which will also serve to remind the community of our ongoing care and concern for them. Sometimes there simply are no words to help victims of tragedy feel better. The presence of a Chaplain might be the only thing that can help.

            This month on Page 6 in The Chaplain’s Corner you’ll find a list of some of the services provided by the Byron Fire Protection District’s Chaplain Division. We’re honored to be part of a great Fire Department and proud of ten years of service to a wonderful community.  

 June 1st is the tenth anniversary of the Fire Chaplain program. We understand that you don’t ever want to see us in an official capacity and we truly hope you’ll never need our services, but we want you to know that we are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.



  • The presence of a Chaplain can provide a measure of comfort during times of grief and traumatic incidents
  • Assisting the authorities with death notifications
  • Immediately following the loss of a loved one many people find that a spiritual presence and a prayer helps; a chaplain can offer this
  • Traumatic events can impair our ability to function. A Chaplain offers practical support, guidance and a watchful eye over your family
  • A ride to the hospital when a loved one is being transported by ambulance
  • Follow-up visits with family at home
  • Follow-up visits while in the hospital
  • Assistance with the funeral process/memorial service
  • A Chaplain can be a listening ear or sounding board
  • A Chaplain can provide confidential counseling for victims of tragedy and Emergency Personnel
  • A Chaplain serves as a liaison between the community and the Fire Department
  • Pre-marital counseling and Weddings for Emergency Personnel and their family members
  • The role and function of the Chaplain is varied and diverse according to the needs of the community
  • Assistance to other departments wanting to start their own chaplain program
  • Finally, how can a member of the community activate the Chaplain’s service? You don’t need to think about it. When you call the Fire Department for help we will either respond at our own discretion or be notified by officials that our presence is needed. Regardless of your religious affiliation or personal spiritual beliefs we will respond for you
  • Remember to dial 9-1-1 in an emergency

Return to Chaplain Corner

and Fire