Twin Towers hero inspires fire chaplain
Twin Towers hero inspires fire chaplain
3 December 2019
At the beginning of every day, Captain Wes Bust, Fassifern Corps Officer and Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Associate Chaplain, prays this prayer:
“Lord, take me where You want me to go;
Let me meet who You want me to meet;
Tell me what You want me to say;
And keep me out of Your way.”
It is the prayer of one of Wes’s heroes, Father Mychal Judge, an Irish-American Franciscan and chaplain to the New York Fire Department. Mychal was the first listed casualty of the 11 September attack on the Twins Towers in 2001.
“When it comes to emergency chaplaincy, I am about the Lord’s business, but I don’t set the tasks,” says Wes. “I try to bring my experience, training and skills to first responders in an emergency space.”
In recent weeks, as unprecedented bushfires were devastating parts of Queensland, Wes was focusing on the needs of firefighters and emergency services front-line responders – at one point, for 42 days in a row.
“Although my main appointment is with my wife, Debbie, as corps officers, she has definitely been looking after the corps for the most part recently while I have been in my chaplaincy role,” Wes explains. “This doesn’t happen a lot – 99 per cent of the time I am in the corps, it’s just that one per cent, in occasional times of emergency, when the scales are tipped. Thankfully, the corps is extremely understanding and supportive.”
Wes works with a group of six other chaplains in the south-east corner of Queensland and specifically oversees the Scenic Rim Command, which includes Ipswich, the Lockyer Valley and Somerset.
The Canungra fire in the Gold Coast Hinterland, which started in September and burned for weeks, was in Wes’s area and from day one, he was there.
“I was supporting the firefighters and also members of the public needing assistance,” he says. “It was a highly complex and volatile situation, so it’s good to have a chaplain to just be there and provide calm guidance and support.
“From day to day, it’s challenging to know what will be happening, or what will be needed from the chaplains. Sometimes, especially when operations are in full swing and ongoing, it could be checking to see whether people are stopping for lunch. It could be holding a cup of tea or mobile phone while they step out, or listening to someone’s story, praying with them, connecting them with a specialist in certain areas, or being there if they need to open up in a safe space.
“This time, too, I have spoken with fatigued firefighters, some of whom are also local landholders in the area and have lost significant amounts of feed for their stock or are facing other losses.
“It’s all about caring for the community and for the wellbeing of those in it.”
During ‘normal’ times, Wes is based at the Fassifern Corps in Kalbar, which includes the communities of both Kalbar and Boonah. The ‘firies’ and other emergency services personnel can just contact him whenever they like. He also drops into their centres from time to time to see them and just have a chat about the footie and daily life so, when there are personal situations, emergencies, or protracted events like the fires and things become tough and unbearable, they have a relationship already established.
“They know I’m praying for their safe return at all times and that with me, there is always an open door,” says West. “I consistently plant the seeds of hope, and let God look after the rest.”
The chaplains are part of an extensive team that work with emergency services personnel to provide the optimum space for their wellbeing. These include peer support officers, the Fire and Emergency Services Support Network, and specialist psychologists.
As a chaplain, Wes also goes out with the men and women of the fire brigade to house fires, road fatalities and other incidents and assists in that space.
“As with chaplaincy events, these are sacred spaces where people trust you in some of their most vulnerable life moments,” he says.
Wes is also in a unique position to further understand the role of emergency services personnel and the impact fires have both on them and those directly affected by fires, through his volunteer work as a ‘firie’ with his local Kalbar Fire Brigade.
“It’s being part of a community group within my community,” he said.
For the most part, Wes doesn’t see the results of his work in terms of people’s lives, but at other times he maintains connections with the families he gets to know under challenging and often traumatic circumstances.
“In some situations, often involving complex trauma, the family ask me to conduct weddings, baby dedications and funerals, and stay in touch as time goes on,” he says.
Wes has an undergraduate degree specialising in trauma and grief, with ongoing study and “upskilling”.
“It’s an area I am so passionate about, with my focus being on working with individuals and groups in crisis and psychological and spiritual first aid,” he explains.
“I see my role as similar to an air traffic controller for care provision. I don’t provide everything that is needed, but I point people in the right direction. I can also guide them to specialists in certain situations, or when emergencies arise. I am a safe person for them and someone in their corner who has their very best interests at heart.
“And I pray that same prayer from Father Mychal, whether I’m out fighting a fire or serving as a chaplain and I believe that God is answering that prayer.”