Volume 17 :: Number 3
Fall 2012

City Savvy
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Chaplain Blackmon gives divine support to firefighters

At St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital, HFD chaplain Garry Blackmon prays for an injured firefighter. Blackmon, the department’s first full-time chaplain, cares for spiritual, physical and emotional well-being of Fire Department personnel.

The sterile hospital room’s tone changes subtly when Gerry Blackmon enters. The jokes fly – “You must be doing bad; the chaplain is here,” and “You’re in trouble if the chaplain is here” – but an underlining current runs through the room. The firefighters straighten up a little and seem to clean up their antics.

Blackmon has been with Fire since 1985 and its chaplain since 1999.

“My primary responsibility is to care for the spiritual, physical and emotional well-being of the individual and the Fire Department during crises,” said Blackmon, who was a minister and an engineer/operator with Station 33 before becoming chaplain. That means supporting Fire personnel and their families, including counseling for marriages or after a tragedy, giving sermons at funerals, saying the prayer at ceremonies, and being there at 2 a.m. when tragedy strikes.

And he’s the coordinator and money distributor for the Firefighters Protection Fund, which is one of the reasons he’s at St. Luke’s. He gave recovering firefighter Jesse Ramos a check to help cover the cost of food, gas, parking and other incidentals for family or friends who visit him regularly.

Ramos, who works for Rescue 10, is in St. Joseph’s Hospital. Weak from kidney-stone surgery, he’s sitting in a chair, a clear plastic tube running across his face helping him breathe.

The other reason Blackmon is here:

“If you need anything, I’m here for that,” he said. “If you need me to pick up the dry cleaning, I’m here for that.”

Blackmon visits firefighters in the hospital one or more times a week. He always says that line about the dry cleaning. Once, a firefighter took him up on the offer.

Heavenly help
One of the firefighters from Rescue 11, who works and trains with Ramos, says they need Blackmon for a wedding. Ramos’ girlfriend has been taking good care of him, and, since there’s a chaplain in the room, Ramos should tie her down now, the firefighter says.

“How about those Astros?” Ramos says weakly in response.

After the laughter dies down – “Laughter is a healing process, I really believe that,” Blackmon says – Blackmon tells Ramos, “I just pray you get better.”

And then, he does pray, asking God to give wisdom and knowledge to the doctors and nurses, to give Ramos strength, to heal his body and mind.

Blackmon, who has a church, does a lot of public praying. At ribbon-cuttings and funerals and service awards, or wherever he’s needed. Five times, he’s prayed at the funeral of a firefighter who died fighting a blaze. Usually, it’s a standard prayer catered to the type of event, he said.

And while he’s a spiritual man and by his job description provides spiritual support, Blackmon doesn’t preach. He’s a Christian minister, but if someone of a different faith needs services, like a Catholic needing last rites, for instance, he has a network of other men of faith who can step in.

He’s also part of the firefighter support network division, which has eight members, including psychologist Emmanuel Finney and member advocate Laura Archibald. He’s coordinator of the department’s Critical Incident Stress Management Team that provides intervention and stress management education before and during crises. He’s the book committee, deciding, with input from others, the books firefighters must study for promotion tests. He stands in for Chief Terry Garrison at events, and he’s part of a team that trains citizens to be first responders in catastrophes.

But mostly he’s here for support.

A phone call away
Blackmon gives Ramos a business card. “Anything you need, just holler,” he said.

Then they shake hands. “I’m serious. If you need anything, you call me, any time.”

He’s only there for about five minutes. If the firefighter is critically injured or doesn’t seem to have much support, he’ll stick around longer, talk more and listen more. But Ramos has a good support system in place. Blackmon just wanted to stop by and offer his earthly services – and some divine support.

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