Firefighters often enter peoples’ lives in times of great personal stress: It may be a devastating house fire that consumes a family’s most prized possessions, a health-related crisis or, in  extreme circumstances, the death of a loved one.

Their training equips firefighters to offer compassion and empathy to those they serve.  But who is available to provide that same attention to them in their own times of pain?  Who can firefighters reach out to when the tragedies they sometimes experience while on-duty become too much to bear?

Finding answers to those questions was the catalyst that led BCFPD officials to establish the Department’s new Chaplain program and select Father Alvin Johnson to serve as official BCFPD Chaplain.

Coming Home

Father Johnson – “Father Al” to the firefighters he works with – is grateful for the opportunity to serve a community with which he is quite familiar: He previously spent two decades as Rector of St. Michael’s Church in Barrington before retiring in 2010.

“I’m no firefighter or paramedic but I do feel I have a role to play here,” Father Al explained.  “It’s nice to come home, but I simply could not pass up the opportunity to work with these professionals who perform live-saving work on a daily basis.”

BCFPD leaders are thrilled to welcome Father Al to the Department.

“Father Al will be a tremendous asset for this Department and a wonderful resource for our firefighters,” Fire Chief Jim Kreher said.  “He is available to offer guidance and counseling to firefighters and their families, as well as members of the community.”

A Chaplain’s Duties

As BCFPD Chaplain, Father Al will oversee multiple duties and situations, including:

  • Firefighter injury: If a firefighter is injured – or worse – while on duty, Father Al will notify the family and offer them comfort and support, as needed.
  • Counseling: Father Al is trained to offer a variety of services – including marriage, pre-marriage, and grief counseling – to BCFPD personnel and their families.
  • Officiant: Father Al is available to preside at weddings, memorials, and other ceremonies for BCFPD members.

In addition, he will be available to serve as a BCFPD representative at community events, take part in new employee orientation training, and periodically accompany first responders on emergency calls.


Volunteer Training

Although BCFPD Chaplain is a volunteer position, Father Al is participating in sections of the BCFPD’s probationary training program that coincide with his departmental duties.  He has also taken part in training conducted by the Illinois Firefighter Peer Support Network, a regional group of more than 200 firefighters who offer support to their service brethren.

“Father Al’s participation in our Department training program will help him become familiar with the organization’s operations and the underlying service culture we’ve established here,” explained Assistant Fire Chief Scott Motisi, BCFPD’s Director of Training and Safety.  “His willingness to get involved with the peer network and other area groups, meanwhile, demonstrates his commitment to serving our firefighters and members of the community.”

In addition, Father Al joins Department crews regularly for lunch and stops by the fire stations frequently to visit and chat with on-duty personnel.

From Oil Rig to Seminary to Fire Department Chaplain

Father Al is a former oil rig worker (a job he held while in college) and graduate of the University of Tulsa, where he met his wife, Vicki.  He then followed his call to ministry by attending Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston.

After 21 years leading the congregation at St. Michael’s, Father Al served as a periodic consultant for the Episcopal Church while also finding time to pursue his favorite hobbies (reading, writing, and golf) as a “partial retiree.”

“Retirement is a fascinating, wonderful thing in so many ways, but I love being a priest,” Father Al said.  “Being here is an opportunity to create a new ‘template’ for myself and become part of an entirely new family.”

Father Al and Vicki are residents of North Barrington.  They have three children: Hannah, Zachary, and Nicholas.

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