WESTERLY — For the families of police, fire and EMT personnel, it’s a scary thought when their loved one is at work. Holidays can be difficult with a first responder away from home, and birthdays can end up with mom or dad skipping cake to help at an emergency response.
First responders put themselves in harm’s way every day and on Sunday, members of the Westerly-Pawcatuck Clergy Association will take a moment to say thank you to them — and to the families that support them — during the third annual Blessing of the First Responders.
“This year, we are trying to expand to recognize not only the first responders, but the families who support them and make so many sacrifices so that they may help protect our communities,” said the Rev. Dr. Cal Lord of Central Baptist Church, a member of the clergy association and guest preacher for the event.
“Families are the lifelines for these guys and girls, both directly and indirectly. That is something we are hoping to put more emphasis on this year,” he continued.
The annual blessing, which was a concept brought to the clergy association by the Rev. Sunil Chandy of Christ Church that first came to fruition in 2016, was based on a program that Chandy previously took part in while serving in Mt. Holly, N.J.
When he presented the idea to Lord, current clergy association president Ruth Hainsworth and others, Chandy said they were not only receptive but almost immediately began working to make the concept a reality.
The event attracted several hundreds to each of the first two celebrations, and organizers are expecting a similar turnout this year.
The blessing will begin at 4:30 p.m. and is open to the public. The event will recognize members of a wide range of area police, fire and ambulance agencies including representatives of the Westerly and Stonington police departments; Westerly Ambulance Corps; fire departments in Westerly, Watch Hill, Dunn’s Corners, Misquamicut, Pawcatuck, Stonington Borough and Old Mystic; and the University of Rhode Island Public Safety Department.
The program will begin with a blessing of the emergency vehicles at the Central Baptist Church parking lot, followed by a procession of uniformed personnel, dignitaries and clergy from Central Baptist Church down Elm Street to the Christ Episcopal Church where a non-denominational evensong service will be held.
Both Sunil and Lord said the interfaith service will include a blessing of St. Florian medals for firefighters, St. Michael’s medals for police officers and Guardian Angel medals for medical personnel. The goal of these, they said, is to both honor the past efforts and provide prayer to aid them in future responses.
In addition, this year’s event will also feature goody bags for children of first responders and other “thank you” gifts for parents or significant others.
“We really wanted to show that this service is not just for (first responders), but to acknowledge the whole family and how important their support is for these guys,” Chandy said. “We want the families to know that their sacrifices are holy as well.”
For those taking part in the event, the moment to step aside and interact with the public is a welcome change. Stonington Police Chief J. Darren Stewart and Dunn’s Corners Fire Chief Christopher DeGrave said it gives personnel a chance to meet the public in a non-emergency situation and allows area residents to see personnel for who they truly are: dedicated men and women who live and work in the communities they love and call home.
In addition, Dunn’s Corners Fire Chief Christopher DeGrave noted that the event gives staff from different area agencies a chance to spend time together and further bond, potentially helping to enhance future teamwork and enhance efficiency in cross-department responses.
“Whether police, fire or EMTs, we are all a family of one,” DeGrave said. “This is a chance for us to stand together in unity, to be side-by-side in one room and show that, at the end of the day, we are all one family.”