Local reverend named as state fire chaplain
By CHRIS GAROFOLO / Reformer Staff
Posted: 06/10/2011 03:00:00 AM EDT
Friday June 10, 2011
BRATTLEBORO -- The Professional Firefighters of Vermont announced this week the local Catholic church leader Richard O'Donnell was appointed as the first state chaplain for the union.
O'Donnell, father at the St. Michael Roman Catholic Church on Walnut Street, received the news on Monday during a three-day convention in Burlington.
The recently instituted position was unanimously approved by the 12 professional departments within the union, and the leadership team appointed O'Donnell shortly after its establishment.
O'Donnell has called the appointment a great honor.
The International Association of Firefighters, of which the Vermont chapter is affiliated, is a large
organization that has a history of taking care of firefighters and their families and participates in numerous charities, he said.
"Just to be a part of that organization is a huge honor. And the Professional Firefighters of Vermont
are a strong organization and they do a lot of great work and they help out in a lot of areas," O'Donnell
added. "First of all you have nothing but respect and admiration for firefighters, so to be a part of that family is an honor in itself. Now at the state level, the honor is tripled, it's a big responsibility to go from one department to 12 and know that there's a responsibility there that I shouldn't take lightly and I won't take lightly."
President Matthew Vinci of the Professional Fire Fighters of Vermont said
O'Donnell was a natural fit because of his specific training and background as a chaplain. "I think he understands our profession, he understands our union and he has deep respect for the work that our men and women do throughout the state," Vinci said. "After our discussions, we found he was a very good fit, somebody who interacted very well with our membership and we wanted to bring him onboard and we're eager to get working."
The recommendation came from O'Donnell's well-established relationship with the Brattleboro Fire Department, where he has served as chaplain for roughly three years.
"We wrote a resolution to appoint a statewide chaplain, and Father Rich was the obvious choice for that position," said BFD Captain Ron Hubbard, president of the Local 4439 in town. "We felt very strongly that he could be an asset to the whole state, and since he's our chaplain, we wanted to be able to lend him to other departments for the help that he can provide."
His roles as a fire chaplain originate from a longstanding history of departments having a ministry presence for marriages, baptisms and funerals. But in addition to his duties as a nondenominational spiritual leader, he will also work with the 12 union affiliates across Vermont.
"Basically, he will be the go-to-guy for any issue that requires that type of support that a priest could
provide," Hubbard said. "He'll be staying in Brattleboro, he's not going anywhere, there's no change to his job here. But he will make a visit around the state to other departments."
According to O'Donnell, he will take his responsibilities from the local level and expand them around the Green Mountain State to serve as a source of aid regardless of faith. He told the Reformer on Thursday afternoon he plans to invest himself around Vermont to remain present to the firefighters on a regular basis, helping them with any personal issues or when tragedy strikes.
But he also intends to become a voice for departments whose budgets are on the chopping block.
"One of my initial goals is to visit each of the departments and meet with the chiefs and captains and supervisors to see if there is anything that they need, but most importantly just to meet them," he continued. "Because now it's not just working with Brattleboro, it's trying to make sure that every firefighter in the state of Vermont knows that I am there to help them and to support them in any way I
Chris Ga\rofolo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.