October 11, 2008 in Voices

Pastor joins Valley Fire

Craig Goodwin will be volunteer chaplain
By The Spokesman-Review
 

When fire destroyed 11 homes in this summer’s Valley View fire, Spokane Valley firefighters had little time to console the victims.

That might have been a job for the Rev. Craig Goodwin, pastor of Millwood Presbyterian, who will soon join the Spokane Valley Fire Department as a volunteer chaplain.

Goodwin also will be asked to minister to firefighters who see too much tragedy or find their family relationships in distress.

“There may be some of us that are tough as nails,” Administrative Capt. Jeff Bordwell said, but he thinks most would like to chat with a chaplain from time to time.

“We all have children, we all have parents, we all have loved ones that pass on or get into trouble,” he said.

On top of that, Spokane Valley firefighters can expect to witness at least two or three deaths a year in the course of their jobs.

“Infants are always a tough one for us,” Bordwell said. “A lot of the guys around here have children and families.”

Or sometimes a dying adult will remind firefighters of someone they know.

“I try to remember the ‘saves’ as well as the bad ones because that helps us to get through it, but you can’t save everyone,” Bordwell said.

That kind of stress can take a toll on personal relationships. Bordwell said firefighters and police have nationwide divorce rates in excess of 70 percent.

“We’re as human as everybody else,” he said.

Goodwin sees an opportunity to fulfill the biblical charge to serve one’s community, as God directed Jeremiah: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you … for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

“I’m excited as a pastor to be involved in such an important service and community activity,” Goodwin said.

His appointment, confirmed Monday by fire commissioners, was a case of one thing leading to another.

“We have several folks in the church who are firefighters or connected to the Spokane Valley Fire Department,” Goodwin said.

Then he participated in a job search committee that brought him into contact with Chief Mike Thompson and some of the department’s commissioners.

“We got into a conversation about the chaplaincy,” and the department leaders said they would like to revive a long-abandoned program, Goodwin said. “The next thing I knew, Jeff Bordwell called to talk to me about that.”

Bordwell said the die was cast when Goodwin expressed interest: Thompson directed Bordwell to “make it happen.”

“Everybody that I’ve talked to has thought it was a good idea,” Bordwell said.

He has been putting together guidelines for the program, which envisions a small corps of chaplains sometime next year – after a trial run with Goodwin.

“Maybe I can be an ambassador for this new program … just to give people some comfort in the direction this is going,” Goodwin said.

He said several members of the Spokane Valley Ministerial Association have expressed interest in joining the chaplaincy.

The program will be similar to ones already operated by the Spokane police and fire departments and the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. It will draw guidance from an association that provides chaplains for numerous Western Washington police and fire agencies.

Bordwell wants Goodwin to spend time getting to know firefighters this year by riding along with them, spending a shift at a station or attending training sessions. Then he’ll be formally introduced at an annual officers’ meeting in January.

By that time, Bordwell hopes to have taught Goodwin how to talk like a firefighter.

That way, he’ll know an “11-W” is a “working fire,” and that a working fire isn’t just any fire. It’s an arriving crew’s signal that two more trucks are needed – enough to put 19 firefighters on scene and enable them to enter a burning building.

Goodwin will be issued a “Class B” uniform polo shirt and a “pre-fire” jacket with his name on them. The clothing will identify him as a member of the Fire Department, and the winter coat has reflective stripes “so we don’t lose him in the night,” Bordwell said.

Goodwin also will be issued a set of “Class A’s” – a dress uniform for formal occasions.

His fire togs will identify him as a chaplain, but won’t have any religious images such as the shoulder patches with crosses that prompted an atheist Spokane police chaplain to file a lawsuit.

The city settled the case last year by removing the cross from the shoulder patch and allowing chaplains to wear lapel pins of their choice.

Bordwell said Spokane Valley Fire Department chaplains also will be free to wear their own religious symbols.

“Personally, I have a cross around my neck,” he said.

Although Goodwin may be asked specifically to come to some emergencies, he may respond to other calls as he pleases.

“He won’t be able to go code,” Bordwell said, using one of those terms Goodwin will need to know.

The chaplain won’t get a two-way radio or a flashing light, much less a firetruck. But he will get a pager and one of the department’s special map books with location numbers used by dispatchers.

“I’m not going to give him an all-call pager because it would drive him nuts,” Bordwell said.

Instead, Goodwin will get a “command” pager that broadcasts only major medical emergencies, such as extrications and multiple casualties, hazardous-materials incidents and working fires.

So, if Goodwin hears an 11-W on his pager, “he might look out his window and see a smoke cloud and say, ‘Hey, maybe I’ll go over there,’ ” Bordwell said.

The chaplaincy program calls for ministers to give 60 hours of “hands-on” service a year. Guidelines would require chaplains to set aside denominational issues.

“Chaplains are not to take the place of the family religious leader,” draft guidelines said.

They’re not to “promote” distinctive church doctrines “except by specific request of the persons involved.”

That’s OK with Goodwin.

“My involvement is not intended to advance the cause of my particular faith,” he said. “I’m really serving out of the great traditions of my faith, where I am called to be a servant.”

Goodwin views the chaplaincy as another opportunity for Millwood Presbyterian to serve its community.

He said the church also puts on the Millwood Farmers’ Market and, in partnership with the West Valley School District and the Young Life organization, operates a youth center called The Crossing.

Goodwin’s enthusiasm for community service appealed to Bordwell.

“He looks like he’s got a lot of energy and he is young,” Bordwell said. “I’ve spoken to him several times, and he has got some wisdom about him.”

Goodwin, 39, has been a minister for 11 years and with Millwood Presbyterian for four years.

His wife, Nancy, also is a minister and serves with him. They have two daughters, ages 6 and 8, and Craig Goodwin coaches their Spokane Valley Soccer Association teams.

“I think very highly of the Spokane Valley Fire Department and am honored that they would look to me for leadership in helping get this program started,” Goodwin said.

Reach staff writer John Craig by e-mail at johnc@spokesman.com.


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