BONNERS FERRY — In times of crisis, whether it be a fire, crime scene, or other traumatic event, our first responders are there. Firefighters put out the flames, law enforcement handles crimes, medics take care of physical injuries, and search and rescue looks for missing people, but who takes care them?
The Boundary County Chaplain Corps (BCCC), established in the summer of 2013 by a group of pastors and church leaders in Boundary County, has sought to answer that question by providing support and encouragement to first responders, their families, and victims, both on scene and afterwards.
The BCCC focuses on the spiritual and emotional needs of the first responders and victims during times of crisis.
“On a crime or fire scene especially, chaplains can aid officers and firefighters by attending to victims so that the officers and firefighters can accomplish their duties with a minimum of distraction,” is the statement on the BCCC website. “Our first priority as an organization, however, is to the first responders themselves as they deal with the stresses and challenges of their jobs.”
The chaplains are available to the agencies or may be dispatched to aid with immediate crisis situations, death notifications, Critical Incident Stress Management, and marriage and family counseling.
“Chaplains function at an emergency scene like an emotional and spiritual triage,” said Boundary County Chaplain Corps President Len Pine.
“We are not the family doctor. We are not everybody’s spiritual leader. We are not trying to get everybody to come to our church,” explained Pine. “We are there to make sure that they are connected to the resources, that support network that they have, and if they don’t have much of a support network, then to help them build one, so that they can cope and function and get through the crisis.”
The BCCC has come up with a new tool to help them accomplish their mission. Pine had witnessed first responders on a local fire, battling the elements to try and stay cool, and no way to keep donated food fresh.
“I watched the ice cream melting and that kind of thing,” said Pine. “So I thought that this a niche that the chaplains can fulfill. If we could come up with some apparatus that we could use — when it looks like it could be an extended scene — lasting more than three hours.”
While attending a Fallen Firefighter memorial in Tennessee, Pine learned about trailers that they had deployed around the state to provide aid and support to first responders. He immediately started to come up with an idea, from trailers to RVs, but nothing seemed to fit.
“What if we get back in the woods somewhere? How on earth are we going to turn the thing around?” Pine said.
On another trip to California, he noticed at old four wheel drive ambulance for sale. Realizing it was the perfect vehicle to implement his plan, he set about trying to make the dream a reality, and the concept of “Angel 1” was born.
“South Boundary Fire happened to have what is now Angel 1 sitting in the woods behind the chief’s house,” explained Pine. “It had some mechanical issues, it turned out, some fairly significant ones, but it was fine. It was doable.”
South Boundary Fire donated the ambulance to the BCCC, and the long year and a half began, rehabilitating the 1984 four wheel drive Ford ambulance, and retrofitting it to meet their demands.
“We have had some great help along the way,” said Pine.
9B Autoworks owner John Becker has spent a lot of time working on Angel 1, getting it up and running again.
“He donated all the labor and a significant amount of the parts to get us up and going,” said Pine. “That was huge.”
Cabinets Northwest helped the interior of Angel 1, building storage cabinets and a much needed bench. Several businesses and individuals have volunteered their time or materials to help Angel 1 come to life.
With the BCCC operating with only volunteers, and funding completely through donation, some through local churches, the Angel 1 project relied heavily on the donation of a motorcycle which was raffled off this year. The $4,000 proceeds from the tickets sold went directly to the ambulance.
“That has been fantastic that we had those funds available,” said Pine.
Angel 1 is almost ready to take to the roads. A roof rack is still being created by North Idaho Ironworks. It will support a container that will hold heavy duty chairs that firefighters will be able to sit in with their gear. To purchase the chairs, Pine approached the Boundary County Fire Chiefs Association, asking if each department would sponsor one chair, and that chair would carry their logo. Two departments have currently pledged.
Another contributor to the Angel 1 project is the Bonners Ferry High School metal shop who will design and build a new heavy duty front bumper, which will support a winch and extra lighting.
“Right now it has a factory chrome bumper, which is straight, but it is not very functional,” said Pine. “If we hit an animal on the road, or slide off the road and hit a tree, or need to push a tree over, to get from point A to point B, we have the capability to do that without destroying the rig.”
Pine told the students what he wanted it to do, but gave them free rein on the design.
“That was a fun afternoon,” said Pine with a chuckle. “Those kids got excited.”
Outside of Angel 1 they will have lighting, thanks in part to a generator donated by Pro X, as well as a tent with sides that has the capability to be heated.
“I expect that we will have a really useful Swiss army kind of vehicle to help on any type of long term scene whether it is in the wild, or in town, or whatever,” said Pine. “The whole idea is to get people out of the elements, have a place to rest, either stay warm or cool down, a place to sit and rest, and a place to get some good, solid, basic food.”
They will also be able to charge personal electronics, such as phones.
“At the end of the day, it is just simply a little oasis, a little mobile rest area, where people can recharge their batteries, either literally or figuratively, so that they can keep doing their job,” said Pine.
Along with the creature comforts, Angel 1 will give the chaplains an easier way to offer counseling to first responders in traumatic situations.
“Then there is the victims themselves, like people that have been burned out of their houses. They are standing there in the rain, watching things,” said Pine. “This will be a place for them to come sit inside, be warm, get dry, get a blanket around them, not have to look at the craziness going on outside, and just be able to regroup and get their head around things.”
“It is a way of tangibly kind of being God’s fingers in the lives of people, by helping them in a time of crisis, a time of need, in a tangible way,” explained Pine.
“Angel 1 is a way to do that,” Pine said. “You can’t get much more tangible than a 20 foot long, nine foot tall, big red box on wheels with bright yellow lettering, that has resources that can be used right now, here and there.”
With Angel 1 scheduled to make its debut in January, Pine is excited about the help he and the four other chaplains will be able to bring to the community, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
“Sometimes it is not even so much what you say— just the fact that you are there where you are needed,” said Pine. “And that is what chaplains are about. To be there where we are needed, whether it is a shoulder to cry on, somebody to vent to, someone to help make sense of the chaos at the moment, so that they can think straight and carry on.”
For more information, to volunteer, or to donate to the Angel 1 fund: visit boundarychaplains.org or www.facebook.com/Idahochaplain
BCCC President Len Pine: 208-946-9761