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Hill serves Fort Dodge Fire Department as chaplain

-Submitted photo
The Rev. Sara Hill, the new chaplain for the Fort Dodge Fire Department, has already made friends with the department’s firehouse dog, Ember.

When the Rev. Al Henderson died last fall, his absence left a gap at the Fort Dodge Fire Department.

Henderson, the pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, had been the chaplain for the Fire Department, as well as the chaplain for the Fort Dodge Police Department and the Webster County Sheriff’s Office.

In the months since Henderson’s passing, the FDFD was looking for ways to fill that need in its department, and last month, the Rev. Sara Hill, associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church, was asked to consider being the chaplain.

Hill said she was taken aback by the request, but prayed about it and decided to accept.

“I’m so humbled and honored that they asked me and I hope that I can be a support to them, because I know what an asset the Fire Department and EMS is to our town and so if I can do a small part in supporting them, I consider that a big honor,” she said.

-Submitted photo
The Rev. Sara Hill, associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church, was selected as the new chaplain for the Fort Dodge Fire Department earlier this month.

Hill began her duties as the department’s chaplain earlier this month, getting to know the department’s personnel.

“I had dinner with some shifts, I chatted with some shifts, watched ‘Wheel of Fortune’ with one shift,” she said. “I’m just trying to learn names and build relationships at this point.”

However, that work is on pause for now as all city buildings are closed to the public and non-staff members due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

But once the COVID-19 risks pass and she’s able to spend time with the department again, Hill envisions herself spending a few hours a week there, getting to know the staff and getting comfortable with them.

“I want to be there and build relationships with them so that when they go on a call that is really traumatic for them, they can see me as someone who is safe that they can process that call with,” she said. “Or if they are struggling with something going on in their own family, whether it’s a medical diagnosis or a new baby or a new marriage or whatever, that I might be someone for whom they can look to for a listening ear.”

Many of the Fire Department and EMS staff have churches they go to and ministers they turn to, but some don’t, Hill said. She hopes to be a resource for all of the staff.

“Just be someone who has the training of active listening and pastoral care and being a non-anxious presence to be able to be there for them,” she said.

Hill said she’s reached out to some of her friends in the clergy who are fire and police department chaplains all across the country to help learn what it means to be a department chaplain.

One thing she’s learned is that the firefighters and emergency responders aren’t just dealing with fires.

“Sometimes they have to go to horrific car accidents, suicides or other things, and I can’t imagine the trauma that is to see that all the time,” she said. “So I want to build the relational capital with them over the next few years so I can be someone they can begin to trust and be able to share with if they need to process their feelings.”

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