This story has been modified since its initial publication to reflect a clarification in the donations/needs box.
“We have a duty to those who put their lives on the line daily,” states southeastchaplaincy.com, a newly formed service and website being stewarded by local Firefighter Chaplain Cole Massey to support first responders in Southeast Washington.
“It is our desire to meet every call or need as it arises. Donations help provide First Responders with the support and care they deserve,” the website states.
Free support will go to all first responders and their spouses in Walla Walla, Columbia and Umatilla counties.
“The purpose of Southeast Chaplaincy is to meet first responders and their spouses where they are. What is their stress level and how can we help get that down? How do we lower the rate of first responder suicide, divorce and job burnout?”
They help by serving one first responder or their spouse at a time, Cole said.
“We help by absorbing the emotional trauma at scenes and being available 24/7 and 365 to our local dispatch. We help by post trauma follow-ups and encouraging peer to peer support.
“We help by bringing water, coffee or food to any incident any time of day. We help by having a network of support that fits our first responders’ personality types and career types that can help with trauma, grief support and relationship hurdles in a highly confidential arena,” Cole said.
Cole has responded to a number of incidents himself as he serves as a volunteer firefighter with Walla Walla County Fire District 4 and as chaplain for Walla Walla County Fire District, city of Walla Walla Fire Department, Columbia County, Milton-Freewater and College Place fire and police departments, Walla Walla County Sheriff’s deputies, Walla Walla County Dispatch and Washington State Patrol.
He was called out to the three firefighter fatalities, including Whitman College student Tom Zbyszewski, 20, on Aug. 19, 2015, in the Twisp River Fire. He was deployed as a firefighter to the deadly 2018 fires in California then used as a chaplain.
He is a member of Southeast Washington Interagency Incident Management Team Type 3 and the Walla Walla Public Schools Crisis Team.
“We are the first responders to first responders. Our goal is to help first responders stretch their stress resiliency with tools and education that can keep them from getting PTSD or suffering from symptoms of post traumatic stress.
“They’re getting hammered by more call volumes, hotter and bigger fires as well as higher impact motor vehicle accidents. We have some tough working environments where perfection is the only option and failure can get ourselves and victims into trouble or even death,” Cole said.
As first responders their motto is “we always go home” “and we fight for that on a daily basis sometimes. We did sign up for this type of trauma but we were never told how deep it can hurt. It hurts our families, marriages, kids, activities, holiday gatherings, church functions and so much more,” he said.
The work draws mostly Type A personalities who become obsessive compulsive and perfectionists to save their own lives in times of trauma.
“Our garages are usually in order and we always back our big trucks in so that we can get out in a hurry or simply so we feel ready for anything that comes our way. We are different and so we process differently.”
On May 25, 2014, Cole said his life as a new first responder changed forever. He received a 3 a.m. call from the Sheriff for an immediate chaplain response to Mill Creek and Five Mile roads to be present for a multi-fatality car accident driven by teens.
“My heart dropped to my feet as I wiped my tears from my eyes.” Hugging his dog, he looked heavenward “and asked the Lord to give me strength for the day and for our first responders who were woken up on a cold and early morning. What do I say? Who do I help first? Where is my mentor (the Rev.) Steve Woolley? How do I help the firefighters and deputies? Who can help me? We have parents to notify and media to address. Where do I start?”
He said most first responders have that one call that emotionally launched them into their career. “In May of 2014, that was the call that confirmed my passion for helping people on the worst day of their life.”
He witnessed more than 10 murders before leaving high school and was beat up as a minority white student a number of times.
“I think it was from those influential and trauma-filled situations that I was able to filter distress in people’s eyes and I learned what to say to them to calm them down.”
The Southeast Chaplaincy board includes Cole, who as the first chaplain received training donated by Walla Walla Emergency Management; Theresa “Terri” Coffell, chief heart officer/administrator with S.E. Chaplaincy, advanced certified life coach with American Association of Christian Counselors and Light University, follow-up chaplain and service coordinator head and care pastor at her church; Rachel Giger, critical incident chaplain, certified end of life coach and hospice volunteer in Walla Walla, Umatilla and Benton counties who offers practical and relational tools to assist those who serve the sick, wounded and dying in this community; and Pastor Matt Babcock, police and correctional officer chaplain, certified information security manager certified and clergy — he and wife Stacey have been called to Walla Walla to “chase after those who are hurting, lost and discarded.” He coaches women’s basketball at Walla Walla High School and Stacey is a social worker for Davis Elementary.
“We need your support now as we train new chaplains and are expanding to multiple counties,” Cole said.