Pastor comes to emotional rescue for Janesville firefighters
While answering a question about a logo sewn onto the sleeve of his white, button-down shirt, one of the paramedics dragged his chair closer, leaned in and boomed: “Come on. Show us your guns!”
Such banter has become part of the relationship between fire staff and Gray, who was named department chaplain in September 2009.
Firefighters said they found Gray approachable the first time he walked into a station house.
“He was easy to talk to,” said Elizabeth Henderson.
“He just clicked with us,” agreed Steve Meyer.
Fire Chief Jim Jensen said he’s been told the department had a chaplain many years ago, but he’s not been able to find any official records.
Jensen said the volunteer chaplain fills an important role.
“Our first responders are exposed to some terrible situations—things the average person doesn’t see on a regular basis—and that affects everybody differently,” Jensen said.
“We’ve trained a couple people in critical incident stress management, but I think it’s important for someone from the outside who can become acquainted with our people so they can get comfortable opening up to that person.
“That’s what the chaplain can do, and Pastor Gray is trying to get to know our people so they’re willing to share things with him so he can be a resource in managing that stress. That’s very valuable to maintaining the well being of our people. We need to take care of our people not just physically but emotionally,” Jensen said.
Gray, 49, is Mequon native and said he’s always been interested in getting involved in the community. He leads the congregation of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church near fire Station No. 2 and serves on the board of ECHO, a local faith-sponsored charity.
The fit between firefighters and Gray has been a good one, Jensen said.
“Pastor Gray is pretty good at making people feel comfortable. He’s not stiff, has got a good personality and gets along well with people,’’ he said.
“He’s a friend coming into the station who can talk to you,” Lt. Dave Sheen said.
Meyer agreed: “I would no way go home and tell my wife specific details of what happened, but with him being a pastor, he sees stuff, too. It’s a comfort. He’s family and understands confidentiality, too.”
Gray is available 24/7.
“All the stations have my card,’’ he said. “I’m there to listen, not to offer advice. I want to be an available ear, colleague and friend.
“When I walk in (to a station), they know who I am. I probably know 90 percent of the faces and 55 percent of the names,” he said.
Gray is fond of watching the growth of the firefighters, whether it’s new recruits learning the job or veterans getting promoted.
“Just being part of that, that’s memorable,” he said.