Communication is Essential


As I sit down to write this article, we are still 14 months away from the next Presidential election, but well into the seemingly never-ending election cycle. Candidates are spending millions of dollars on advertising and campaign staff to communicate their message to the voting public by any means necessary. Proper communication is essential to ensure the message reaches the people who will decide the election. Communication is essential for any relationship. Communication is essential to be successful on the fireground and to run an organization. And good communication is necessary in order for a fire chaplain to best serve his or her department or organization.


For a fire chaplain to be as effective as possible, there has to be an open line of communication from the chief (commissioner, officer, etc.) to the chaplain. The chaplain has to know what's going on! If the chaplain isn't informed of an incident, an injury, a major event, the chaplain can't do the best job possible. Keep him or her in the loop. If your department has a notification system where chiefs or officers are notified for major incidents or member injuries, offer to include the chaplain in the message. If there is a department email or message system to alert members of important upcoming events, add the chaplain to the list. Obviously, the chaplain can't attend everything, but will attend nothing he or she doesn't know about.


In the event of a serious injury or death of a member, the chaplain should be among the first notified. He or she will be equipped to minister to the member and family, as well as be a resource to the fire department officers. With many departments changing officers yearly, some may be experiencing a death or crisis for the first time. Having a pre-planned contact and notification list ensures no one and nothing falls through the cracks.


Good communication is not only essential for crises or major events, but the day to day operation of the department and the lives of the members. Let the chaplain know what's going on. If a member or a family is going through some difficulty, let the chaplain know. Let your members know that they can always speak to the department chaplain and confidentiality will be respected. If a member wants further guidance, the chaplain is a good resource and reference person. Some people don't like talking about issues to people they know and would rather someone else. The chaplain can find a person. Some people will only talk to someone they know well. The chaplain can be that person. Fire chaplains come from many different faiths and can always refer a member to a chaplain of their faith if that is what is needed.


Communication is a two-way street. A good relationship between chief officers and chaplains can do much for the well-being of the department or organization. Letting each other know what's going on will build a better working relationship and a better department. The more chiefs and members know their chaplains, the more trust is built and the more effective the relationship.


About the author

Fr. Christopher Costigan is a Catholic priest ordained for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, where he currently serves the parish of Saint Mary in Manhasset. Manhasset is a hamlet in Nassau County, New York, on the North Shore of Long Island. He is a firefighter in the Oceanside Fire Department, where he also serves as chaplain. He serves as chaplain to the North Bellmore and Point Lookout-Lido Departments and has been appointed by the bishop as a Catholic chaplain to the Nassau County fire service. Fr. Costigan is on the board of directors for the New York State Association of Fire Chaplains, Inc.