First Responders

From firefighters to police officers to the Red Cross and many others, First Responders play an essential role in protecting public safety and helping people cope with emergencies. In this segment, we consider the work of providers of disaster spiritual care. These folks look after both survivors of tragedies and the responders, who are sometimes reeling in the wake of calamity.

We hear the reflections of Rabbi Shira Stern, a long-time Red Cross volunteer (and pastoral counselor) who provides chaplaincy services in times of crisis. She’s been deployed to Ground Zero following the 9/11 attacks in New York, a flood that inundated a West Virginia community, the Boston Marathon bombing and other disasters. Her task is to listen, to offer reassurance and, importantly, to show the survivors – often frightened because their lives have been upended – that they are not alone. Rabbi Stern along with her husband leads a synagogue in Marlboro, NJ (outside New York City). She is the daughter of the late-great violinist Issac Stern, who died of unrelated causes shortly after 9/11, a time when her own mourning coincided with the nation’s.

Next we visit with Rev. James Tilbe, the pastor of the First Congregational Church, located next to the Raynham, Massachusetts Fire Department, where he serves as the fire chaplain and is also an on-call firefighter. Jim finds himself taking care of firefighters and EMTs, who sometimes witness horrific scenes in the course of performing essential duties. Jim also serves as chief chaplain of the Massachusetts Corps of Firefighters. In addition, we hear from Lt. Jeff Kelleher, a veteran of the Raynham department, who describes how firefighters process the challenges of crises in a small New England town.