The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 23, 2013

In times of trauma

Former volunteer firefighter filling a void with his service for Enid Fire Department

By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Ministering to those who regularly are exposed to trauma and levels of stress seldom experienced in the general population requires a chaplain with a special background and skills.

Enid Fire Department recently found such a chaplain in the Rev. Tom House, an experienced volunteer firefighter, Lutheran minister and now volunteer EFD chaplain.

Path to ministry

House’s path to ministry began while he was serving in the Air Force in the early 1980s.

He enlisted in the service after graduating from high school in Marquette, Michigan, and served four years on active duty.

It was during that service a Lutheran chaplain encouraged House to pursue a career in ministry.

In order to attend divinity school, House first had to earn a bachelor’s degree, which led him to attend Concordia Teachers College — which is now Concordia University — in Seward, Neb.

House said he studied teaching for his undergraduate degree because he thought “an education degree would provide a decent background for the role of a pastor as teacher.”

After earning a teaching degree in 1989, House took a detour from his path to ministry and accepted a teaching position for two years in Miami, Florida.

He said it did not take God long to get him back on track to service in ministry.

“Sometimes the Lord just needs to hit you with a two-by-four to get you headed back in the direction you need to go,” House said. “Through a series of events, he drew me back to the ultimate goal of attending seminary and moving on from there.”

House returned to his alma mater and completed divinity school at Concordia Theological Seminary, followed by a one year internship in Denver.

He served his first seven years as a minister in Texas, including postings in Brownsville, Dallas and Plano, then moved on to serve nine years at his first Oklahoma assignment, in Hooker.

Path to Enid

House moved to Enid last September to become pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church and started volunteering as a chaplain at Enid Fire Department in February.

House said his desire to volunteer as a chaplain for EFD is rooted in past volunteer work and past service as a firefighter.

He served as a chaplain for the Civil Air Patrol during his time in Texas, providing ministry for members of the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary.

When he moved to Hooker, House found there was no local CAP squadron but there was a need for volunteer firefighters.

He signed up first to serve as a firefighter.

“I was primarily a firefighter, and then a chaplain,” House said. “When guys find out you’re a pastor they will talk to you and open up to you about the things they’ve seen.”

House said his service as a volunteer firefighter and as a chaplain to fellow firefighters gave him experience in ministering to the traumatized — both firefighters and victims.

He said it is a challenging but rewarding ministry.

“The ministry to first responders of any kind is very challenging,” he said. “The need arises often for first responders to talk and discuss and work through traumatic incidents.”

House said often the best support a chaplain can provide is simply to be there to listen to those in need.

“You’re there when the personnel need you to be there,” House said. “The challenge is knowing how to talk to them and what to listen for when you’re dealing with traumatic events, whether you’re talking to firefighters or to victims and family members at an incident.”

Emergency basis

House said he’s there to provide “emergency care” to first responders and victims, not to replace other ministers or counselors.

“I do not replace any of the guys’ pastors, but I have immediate access to the scene of an incident, as well as knowledge about what the guys are going through.”

House said he will be taking refresher courses in fire chaplain service, critical incident stress management, suicide prevention and ministry to the traumatized to better serve the EFD firefighters.

EFD assistant fire marshal Todd Hays said EFD hasn’t had a chaplain since former chaplain Darrell Moore retired several years ago.

“Having him (House) here will definitely fill a void in the fire department,” Hays said. “It’s always good to have that kind of support, and he will be a good fit here with his previous experience as a firefighter. That helps build a rapport with the guys.”

House said he is looking forward to serving Enid’s firefighters, and he has enjoyed settling in the community.

House’s wife, Audrey, is a teacher at Monroe Elementary School.

The couple’s oldest son, Caleb, is a student at Frank Phillips College in Borger, Texas, and their younger son, Nate, is a sophomore at Enid High School.

“I love Enid,” House said. “It really has the best mix of the things you would find in a larger city, but it’s also not like Dallas or Oklahoma City, where people don’t look you in the eye and stop to talk to you. That’s the kind of small town stuff you don’t find in a larger city, and it makes Enid a great place.”