Recently I was thinking about the problems that all of the Fire Chiefs serving in Volunteer Fire Departments, whom I know, seem to be facing. During my twenty nine years as a Firefighter and Chaplain I have seen many fine Chiefs, dedicated people, highly skilled and trained suddenly begin to withdraw from the fire service. Some have left without an explanation, while others have shared their reasons with me.


In some of the cases there have been health related issues outside of their control which have affected them. For others there have been problems at home with their spouse or their children. The time demands and pressures and responsibilities of your job can adversely affect your home life. Still others are carrying the emotional pain and sadness they have experienced at a tragic accident or fire scene or perhaps it’s been the accumulated losses that have taken place over the course of several years that have caused them to with draw.

But far too often I’m told that it was harsh words, perhaps spoken in hast or anger within their own department, that have wounded their spirits so deeply, that they don’t feel that they can go on. It’s unfortunate that misunderstandings can act like a wedge which can push even good friends apart. As you all know, when a Chief makes a command decision, it seldom pleases everyone. There may be times that you may feel like a stranger or worse yet, an enemy in your own station house.


As a fire Chaplain, whenever the pressures of my own life have closed in on me I have found that the words of a song I learned years ago have really helped me through. They are not the words of a church hymn, but instead are the words of a song written by Paul Simon, from Simon and Garfunkel in the 1960’s the song is called the “Boxer.


It’s the story of a young fellow who goes to New York City seeking his fortune, but instead becomes discouraged, defeated and is ready to leave. Ready to just give up, ready to just walk away!


Than in the last verse of the song he see’s a boxer, a fighter who has been defeated, and is ready to leave, for he too has been defeated. He draws inspiration from this fighter as the boxer pulls himself back upright to his feet and continues on. There stands the Boxer once again and he is determined to remain.


These are the words: In the clearing stand’s a boxer and a fighter by his trade. And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him, till he cried out in his anger and his shame. I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains. The fighter still remains! This picture of the boxer getting to his feet after the blows of life have knocked him down, and remaining, continuing the fight I have always found to be inspiring.


So if you are reading this article and you were thinking about withdrawing or giving up, please give it another try. If you thought that you were no longer needed, please reconsider that, and continue to lead your department as their Chief Officer. As a chaplain, I am always available to listen to whatever you, as a Fire Chief might have on your heart, and I am always ready to help lift your spirits by the Power of Prayer. I can be reached on my cell phone at (845) 541-7730 or on my E-mail at jtr_12pt@yahoo.com if you ever have a need.

Let me share the words of another writer, not Paul Simon but the apostle Paul, these words are found in the Bible in Galatians 6, verses 9 & 10: “Let us not grow weary or get tired while doing good, for in God’s season we shall reap our reward, if we do not lose heart. So, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone.” May the Lord richly bless you all as you continue to serve Him in the fire service as the Chief Officer of your Fire Department.


About the Author:

Rev. Jim Van Houten has served as a firefighter and chaplain of the Walden Volunteer Fire Department for the past 29 years and serves as chaplain to both the Montgomery and Coldenham Fire Departments. He serves as one of the chaplains for both the OCVFA and the HVVFA. He is currently serving as the 2nd Deputy Chief Chaplain with the NYSAFC.