Sunday marks faith community’s second Blessing of the First Responders ceremony

Sunday marks faith community’s second Blessing of the First Responders ceremony


WESTERLY — When the Rev. Sunil Chandy helped organize the inaugural Blessing of the First Responders, he knew it was likely an event that the community would embrace. But Chandy, of Christ Church, never anticipated the response they would receive from the community as whole.

Hundreds lined the streets of downtown Westerly to say “thank you” and recognize the efforts of police, fire and EMTs from the region, as well as their families. As the Westerly-Pawcatuck Clergy Association prepares to host the blessing for a second consecutive year, Chandy said organizers and emergency personnel are anticipating an even larger turnout in 2017.

“To see the men and women marching with dignity, the people waving as they passed — there is great pride in seeing that. Everyone was so appreciative of the opportunity,” said Chandy, who helped organize the first event with the Rev. Dr. Cal Lord of Central Baptist Church.

The second Blessing of the First Responders, hosted by members of the clergy association, will be held on Sunday beginning at 4 p.m., and the event already promises to be a truly regional celebration.

Westerly and Stonington police, Westerly Ambulance, Stonington Ambulance and fire personnel from Westerly, Watch Hill, Dunn’s Corners, Misquamicut and Pawcatuck — each of which also attended the first event — have already confirmed participation, along with the URI Department of Public Safety, which will take part for the first time. In addition, Chandy and Lord said volunteers from Charlestown, Ashaway and Hope Valley fire and ambulance departments and police from Hopkinton and Charlestown have also been invited to attend.

The program will kick off with a gathering of officers at Central Baptist Church and includes a blessing of the vehicles at 4:30 p.m., followed by a procession with bagpipes to Christ Church and formal evensong at 5 p.m. featuring guest speaker the Rev. Tom Hoar, president and CEO of Enders Island and chaplain for the Stonington Police Department. A reception will follow in Christ Church Hall.

“The event is open to anyone. If there are responders living in the area who work for other towns, we would be happy to make them a part of the blessing,” Chandy said.

Police, fire and EMTs will also be honored during the ceremony with a special medallion, which will serve as a keepsake thank you from the community.

“These guys do so much for our town. They helped so many after Hurricane Sandy, they’ve hosted dinners to help the victims of fires,” Lord said. “Every summer they go all out to make sure everyone is safe and able to enjoy the shoreline. This is just a small way for us as a community to recognize and thank them for their efforts.”

The program was first brought to Westerly by Chandy, who said he had the opportunity to be part of a similar annual celebration while serving in Mt. Holly, N.J., from 2006 through 2014. He said the community there responded well, with large turnouts at each event and a program that grew to include a larger attendance and a broader range of participants.

For members of the police community, Stonington Police Chief J. Darren Stewart said the event serves as an opportunity for officers to connect with the community and other agencies in a relaxed, enjoyable atmosphere.

So often, Stewart said, the community sees first responders in bad times, whether it be because of medical emergency, fire, crime, disaster or another event requiring response. He said with the Blessing of the First Responders, the community and responders from different agencies can connect in a way they just can’t at an emergency scene.

In a region filled with volunteer fire departments, many of which serve as primary responders for their communities, Watch Hill Fire Lt. Christopher Koretski said the event also helps call attention to the need for volunteers to come forward.

“Any opportunity for exposure is a good thing. There are many out there who might not know who we are or what exactly we do,” Koretski said. “For the clergy association to provide this kind of opportunity, it means so much to our volunteers and to the department as a whole.”

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