Chaplain coordinators from IFOC and Victim Relief Ministries (VRM)arrived in Bastrop county Monday evening, September 5, 2011 just one day after a massive wildfire started which would eventually destroy about 1,700 homes and burn about 34,000 acres, or about 25 percent of Bastrop County. VRM chaplains also began arriving on Tuesday, September 6, 2011. On Wednesday, September 7, 2011, five (5) IFOC chaplains from Albuquerque, New Mexico traveled to Bastrop, Texas in response to one of the most costly disasters in Texas history.
The eleven (11) chaplains were all based at Camp Swift, a National Guard camp located north of Bastrop. Also based at the camp were almost eight hundred (800) firefighters and emergency operations support staff from every state. Overtwo-hundred (200) fire engines were also based at the camp.
Beginning before dawn each morning the chaplains ministered to firefighters before and during breakfast. This was followed up by encouraging and praying for them as they prepared their equipment and fire engines for early morning departure. Chaplains returned each evening to share supper with the returning firefighters and emergency operations support staff. Again this was a great time of bonding between the chaplains and the firefighters. The sleeping quarters and hygiene facilities were also shared by the firefighters and chaplains. The chaplains were never separated from the firefighters accept when the firefighters went out to the fire lines.
Displaced homeowners who did not have any place to go, were housed in temporary shelters throughout the county. These shelters provided sleeping accommodations, food, personal hygiene facilities, clothes and medical assistance. Chaplains spent many hours at the shelters praying with, encouraging, giving directions and just listening. All of the citizens the chaplains encountered were in some way affected by the fires.
The Bastrop Convention Center was the location of the Emergency Operations Command Center (EOCC) and it was where hundreds of citizens came each day to find out the latest facts concerning the fires, where to obtain supplies and when they could return to their neighborhoods. Chaplains visited the EOCC numerous times to encourage the staff and visit with the citizens. With the high level of anxiety and frustration experienced by the citizens, the chaplain’s presence, listening ear and caring heart were a soothing comfort.
Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) troopers were stationed throughout Bastrop county blocking entry to dangerous areas. Chaplains visited, prayed with and encouraged these troopers.
Chaplains were welcomed wherever they went and words of gratitude always followed. The chaplains prayed with hundreds of citizens, EOCC staff, firefighters and support staff throughout their stay in Bastrop county. Chaplains also gave Bibles to citizens, firefighters and support staff. These Bibles were provided by the Gideons.
When chaplains thanked everyone for their work, the response was almost always, “No, Thank You for what you are doing!”
IFOC and VRM chaplains ceased operations and returned to their home bases on Monday, September 12, 2011.
Harvey J. Pendleton
Texas Chaplain Coordinator