October 1, 2012 through December 31, 2012 Just a thought ...


December 27 - Recent events have many people questioning their faith. From a medical helicopter flight crew perishing in Illinois, to an unimaginable school shooting in Connecticut, to the ambush and assasination of firefighters responding in Upstate New York, as well as a seeming unending list of other tragedies, it's easy to feel abandoned, confused and angry with God. I'd like to offer the following thoughts to help support and encourage those of you who are experiencing a crisis of your own faith as you, too, search for answers. First and foremost, God is God and we are not. He has been around much longer than any of us and He just might know a thing or two about what's going on in this crazy, mixed-up world. Second, you can have doubts in your head but still have faith in your heart. Don't give up, yet. It's ok to feel confused, angry or fearful. But you must hold on to whatever faith you have and eventually your emotions will balance out. Third, evil exists just as sure as goodness does. But there is a light of hope, strength and love that shines in the darkness. No matter how black the darkness gets it can never extinguish even the smallest light of love. Love will overcome evil every time. Love will never fail. We must never stop pursuing God because God is love and love is always the answer. It's the only way out of the darkness. Fourth, we can no longer tolerate the separation of church and state ... yes, that's right. God established state (government) to partner with Himself for the good of mankind. United we stand, divided we fall is a good way to think of church and state from this day forward. Next, God created man to run the earth. He set the world in order and turned it over to us. With all of the impressive advancements we've made through the generations there are still some things we haven't quite figured out yet, so, maybe we should start following the operating instructions more seriously. Finally, man has been given the greatest gift of all - that of free will. We have a God-given right to reject even God Himself if we so choose. Regretably we can choose to inflict pain and suffering on our fellow man as well. In the darkness and pain we must look for God because He is there. He is there in the police officer jumping into icy waters to save a drowning citizen. He is there in the firefighter who carries an unconcious child from a burning house. He is there in the school teacher who hides her children to save their lives. Now more than ever we must continue to seek God for we will find Him when we search for Him with all of our heart.


By Pastor Gary Cortese, Chaplain – Byron Fire District

“Welcome Home REACT.” On Friday morning, the 14th of December, in an incredible display of love, unity and support, the Fire, Police and EMS family escorted 3 of their own, medical helicopter Pilot Andy Olesen, Flight Nurse, Jim Dillow and Flight Nurse, Karen Hollis, to help them complete their final mission. The flight crew was lost when their helicopter went down here in northern Illinois on the 10th of December. Heaven may be a brighter place now, but our communities have been left with an aching void.

I was privileged to offer a prayer with Fire and EMS personnel and join the caravan of emergency escort vehicles from the Sheriff’s Office in Oregon to the REACT hangar at Rockford Memorial Hospital. As we drove along the designated route there were many people holding signs of support, some had flags in hand; others had their hand over their hearts. Fire, Police and EMS members stood at attention as we passed by. Young and old lined the streets to pay the proper respect and honor that was due. It was really quite moving.

Early in our journey, as we approached Byron on River Road, Deputy Chief Snodgrass called my attention to something that I believe has special significance. There on a small island in the middle of the Rock River sat an eagle perched high atop a tree branch. This iconic symbol, graceful, strong, majestic and confident, seemed to sit purposefully as it watched us all pass by. It was as if this eagle had been sent for that very reason – to watch over this procession here on earth while three different “eagles” were soaring in the heavens.

When I returned from this emotional experience, still trying to process my own thoughts, I was immediately informed that the devil himself visited my home state of Connecticut as his evil persona was manifested on a school campus. At the time of this writing the pain and anguish felt by so many is unimaginable with important questions being asked (and rightfully so) as to how this could happen. As we prepare to celebrate Christmas and begin a brand new year I want to offer the following insights and thoughts for you to consider as perhaps your own faith has been (or will be) challenged in one way or another.

First of all, the fact that people still turn to faith, prayer and the church for comfort and solace is evidence that we are a nation of such. These things are at the core of who we are. When people automatically turn to God in extreme duress it should remind us that we really are connected to and dependant upon someone or something greater than ourselves. It’s ok to have doubts and unanswered questions but still ask for guidance, help and strength. It’s perfectly natural to make provision for the “spiritual” part of our makeup and is actually a good idea to have such a provision in place for when tragedy strikes. If prayer vigils, reading of Bible verses, lighting of candles and inter-faith church services are encouraged and are not a violation of anyone’s civil rights during a national tragedy then they’re certainly not a violation at any other time of year either.

Next, sometimes there are no real answers as to why or how things happen. That’s when you must focus on finding ways to heal and move forward. Things may never be the same again but life goes on. It always does. How will you go on with it? That’s the real question. Yes, there are legitimate concerns, investigations to conduct, opinions to share, theories to discuss, statistics and legislation to follow. But we must learn to band together – church and state – to protect communities as best we can and to find strength and hope to move forward.

Finally, our Fire, Police and EMS are on the front lines every day. In the darkest blackness of human carnage and suffering they intervene on behalf of mankind in the direst of circumstances. There is no higher calling than to spend your life in service to others. The sacred duty of saving lives and protecting property is a ministry and proof that God does not abandon or forsake us in the storm but has ordained these ministers to stand in the gap. We are never alone. Ever.




December 11 - The EMS family is mourning a tragic loss here in northern Illinois. REACT helicopter pilot, Andy Olesen, and flight nurses, Jim Dillow and Karen Hollis made the ultimate sacrifice of love and service to fellow man last night when their helicopter crashed. To walk through the valley of the shadow of death is the inevitable reality of our mortal existence. To intentionally do so every shift for the sake of total strangers is more than mortal, it's sacred. Firefighters, EMS workers and Police Officers know that there are no "routine"calls and that their lives are often periled. The ultimate sacrifice isn't just made by these professionals but by their families as well - husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers aren't called heroes nor do they receive awards and certificates during their loved ones' careers. Honor belongs to the families first. We must never forget this. No one likes to think about dying - but families of firefighters, paramedics and police officers are forced to think about it - and sometimes deal with it - whether they want to or not. Families of our guardians are making sacrifices every day. Sometimes spouses suffer silently dealing with loneliness and depression. Sometimes children rebel more openly because Daddy or Mommy isn't always around like other kids' parents. The point is this: why would anyone want to do this job? The burden it places on families is very heavy; the stress it places on marriages is unthinkable; the strain it places on personal health is detrimental and the emotional swings are off the charts. My police officer brother-in-law once explained his job as "hours of boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror." So, who in their right mind wants this kind of life? Only those who have a divine call upon their lives. As someone once said, you are "burdened with glorious purpose." You are God's ministers sent to intervene on behalf of mankind in the most terrifying of circumstances. You are a beacon of light shining bright in the darkness of human suffering. We thank God for you and we pray for you and your families. May we be ever mindful of the burden you and your families carry...that real love means real sacrifice.


December 6 - Can your marriage survive infidelity? Can your family handle tragedy? Can you deal with a career-ending incident? The answer to these and all questions is: it depends. There are always variables in any situation and your circumstances may be different, so you cannot simply throw a standard answer at everyone. However, you are stronger than you might realize. You were built that way. It comes down to what you ultimately believe about yourself and your situation. If you believe you cannot, you won't. If you think it's over, it is. If you say you're through, you're done. Think the best. Believe the best. Speak the best.


December 1 - I recently had the opportunity to minister to folks who had the horrifying experience of being displaced by a fire. Upon arrival there was smoke and flames showing. First and foremost, there was no loss of life - thank God. I'm proud of our firefighters who stopped any further damage to the adjoining apartment units and I'm honored to serve with our city's Bravest and Finest. What a magnificent display of God's servants fulfilling their divine call: saving lives and protecting property. You must never allow "routine" or "job stress" to cause you to forget what an incredible honor it is to do His work!


November 21 - Many folks will celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends and share something they're thankful for while sitting around the dinner table. I'm grateful for all of you who are out there making a difference in your communities. God Bless You and Your Families! Here is a post that was shared with me:

"Oh, you're a firefighter, paramedic or EMT? That's cool. I wanted to do that when I was a kid. Do you mind me asking what you make?" WHAT DO I MAKE? "I make holding your hand seem like the biggest thing in the world when I'm cutting you out of a car. I can make 5 minutes seem like a life time when I go into a burning house to save your family. I make those annoying sirens seem like the brush of angels' wings when you need me. I can make your children breathe when they stop. I can help you survive a heart attack. I make myself get out of a warm bed on a cold morning at 3 A.M. to risk my life to save people I've never met. Today I might make the ultimate sacrifice to save your life. I make a difference. What do you make?"


November 17 - It's been said that firefighters have the best job in the world. Someone also wisely said that if you love what you do you'll never work another day in your life! You might love what you do, and you may even believe that yours is the best job in the world, but there is one simple fact about dealing with human suffering, tragedy and the evils of crime: The stress that comes with public service is an unseen enemy that kills relationships, upsets happy homes, and forces you to find relief in alcohol or some other vice. You cannot totally remove stress from the job. It will hide, build up and bite you when you least expect it. But since God called you to service (saving lives and protecting property is a Divine Call), He has also provided ways for you to protect yourself and your family from the devastating effects of it. If you're not taking advantage of Divine strategies for reducing stress, you may always be at a disadvantage and your family might become a statistic. If you need help trying to figure out how to manage it, your Chaplain is just a phone call away.


November 11 - People need moral checks and balances in their life. There are no exceptions. Those who hold great power and influence must be extra vigilant in this area simply because there will be more opportunities to breach the boundaries. A crisp, clean uniform does more than represent authority, it has the power of allurement as well. Men and women are human first. The rules of attraction are not suspended because you're on the job serving the public. In fact, the incredible stress and strain of the job makes you more vulnerable to temptation. If your spouse won't take the time to listen and care about you someone else will. What checks and balances do you have in place to keep you from infidelity or promiscuity? What direction is your moral compass set?


November 10 - My father-in-law, Detective Vito Colucci. Thank you for your example of doing what's right in spite of overwhelming circumstances and incredible danger. Look forward to your new book, "Rogue Town" after the first of the year!

My father-in-law, retired Detective Vito Colucci, signing a contract for his new book "Rogue Town" which tells the incredible true story of his valor and commitment in going undercover to expose corrupt city officials and organized crime. I've known Vito for 30 years and have appreciated his example of doing what's right even when it's not easy or popular! God has blessed Vito's faithfulness and given us a real live hero!


November 5 - We've all encountered death at some level, some more than others. It's not pleasant or easy. But a Line Of Duty Death warrants our undivided attention. You see, to lay down your life in service to your fellow man is a sacred act. While no mortal man is worthy to be worshipped the utimate sacrifice of oneself stands alone in its merit. We MUST do all that we can to prevent the loss of life in service to others but when it does occur it is right, proper and fitting to render honor to whom honor is due in as dignified and regal a manner as is possible. If ever there was a time to shine your shoes, polish your brass and get your Class A uniform squared away it is when we honor the ultimate sacrifice made by a Firefighter, Police Officer or a Member of our Armed Forces. May God Bless the families of those who have laid their lives down for others.

October 27 - A Fire Chief once said something to me about people's reaction in an emergency situation. Without training the average person has a "default" setting which is set to "panic" mode. With proper training you're able to overcome this and not lose the ability to function. That would explain why the first thing an untrained crowd will do in a fire is panic and trample one another. Firefighters and Police Officers must train for worst case scenarios but citizens don't. So, what about emergency situations in your own emotions, physical body, marriage, or the emotions and body of someone you love and care about? Without proper "spiritual" training you may panic and lose the ability to respond correctly. Some of the more common "emergencies" you will personally encounter throughout your career are sickness, disease, depression, hardness of heart, inability to communicate, anger, confusion, fear, infidelity, etc. Knowing God and understanding how He relates to you and feels about you and your family gives you an advantage. But it takes regular "spiritual" training and discipline to teach you how to use the tools He has provided for you to overcome any and every challenge.


October 22 - To have the very best equipment, and enough of it, shouldn't be an issue, ever. But the reality in many communities is that departments are plagued by shrinking budgets and misplaced values. One way to help keep the peace, maintain law and order, save lives and protect property is to have a strong Police and Fire presence. The Thin Blue Line is thin enough in the best of conditions. Police Departments need every advantage and the citizens deserve it. Officers should not only be professional in the performance of their duties but they should look professional as well. The uniform and the equipment represent authority and make a statement about the trust and expectations given by the citizenry. Uniforms and equipment reflect enormous responsibility by our city's Bravest and Finest. Next time you report in for your tour of duty remember that your uniform and equipment do more than provide an identity, they represent the authority and responsibility your department is entrusted with...and will help get you back home safely to your family.


October 13 - Byron Fires Heavy Rescue unit is called SQUAD 441. Several years ago Deputy Chief Tim Salo explained its function to me by calling it a "rolling tool box." That description really put it into perspective for me as to 441's great versatility in any emergency situation. Firefighters and Police Officers are armed with many tools as they serve and protect their communities. They should always have the...best of what they need to do their job. I cherish the wonderful memories I have of walking with my grandfather, "Frank the Cop," on his beat downtown. His uniform was always impeccable and the trunk of his car well stocked with whatever he might need on the job. Granddad had the right tools for every job. So what about having the right tools for the job of being a good parent or spouse? Those lessons aren't taught at the academy or in the on-going training throughout your career. What keeps you alive on the streets or on the fire ground may not be the best way to keep your love alive at home. Is there a "rolling toolbox" available for your personal life? Thank God there is! That's where your Chaplain Division can serve you and your family - if you'll ask.


October 9 - If you're married to a cop or firefighter, or belong to the family of one you are entitled to special privileges. I honor you and I bless you! The sacrifices you make are above and beyond what most families will ever have to. The average citizen will never understand what it can be like for you, nor should they have to. Here are some important points to help encourage you in your role. You have just as much a calling as the cop or firefighter in your life. You are in service, too. You are a "minister" to the "minister" (cops and firefighters are ordained in their role as ministers that save lives, keep the peace, and protect property). Also, it's not that your cop or firefighter has an inability to communicate or is insensitive to your need for a connection with them but their silence, avoidance, hardness, distance, etc., is a defense mechanism. The stress of dealing with certain criminal elements, traumatic death and disaster among other things, is simply not healthy. The human soul was not designed to be subjected to this on a regular basis. Finally, learn how to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His Might. God provides the grace to function in the role He has chosen for you.


October 7 - I had the privilege of participating in another Badge Pinning ceremony with the Byron Fire Department this weekend. The newly minted firefighters are at the start of what we hope will be a long and rewarding journey of saving lives and protecting property. Whether you are a career firefighter, volunteer, part-time/paid-on-call or a career or part-time police officer you will not be thinking the same in 20 years. There is a cost to being a guardian. There is no service without sacrifice. The good news is that you and your family don't have to become a casualty. When you put on the uniform and wear the badge that comes with it you step into a divine role. A Badge Pinning ceremony is just like an Ordination ceremony for a minister. Because firefighers and police officers are ministers of defending life and property on the home front. The call of doing so is divine in origin but human in application. No one will require you to pray and include God in your daily routine - but it's to everyones benefit when you stay connected to the One Who called you to serve. Stay Real. Stay Healthy. Stay Safe. Come back home, whole, with minimal damage to your own soul, at the end of every shift.


October 4 - Here is something else to contemplate ...


October 1 - Is there a simple recipe for success? Can you follow three or four easy steps to happiness? There are many misconceptions about success and happiness. For the record it's not simple or easy but it is very attainable. It's all in YOUR perspective and attitude. The world around you is constantly changing - people change, seasons change, goals, ambitions and strategies change. You have to find happiness and success within yourself regardless of what's going on around you...because everything around you is constantly changing (not always for the better). If you're waiting on your spouse to treat you better or the kids to act right or your job situation to improve before you get happy then you might be waiting awhile. If you wait too long - eventually it will be too late.