WESTERLY — When Watch Hill Fire Chief Robert Peacock invited the Rev. Cal Lord, of Westerly Central Baptist Church, to serve as honorary chaplain two years ago, Lord said he wanted to learn more about the department and the services it provides.
"After hearing everything, I turned back to them and asked, 'Can I be a firefighter too?'" Lord said. "I've been with them ever since."
Celebrating nearly a year as a volunteer firefighter, Lord has gained a reputation as an approachable father figure for volunteers and as a motivated firefighter and role model. In recognition, he has been selected as the 2019 Shep Simmons Service to the Community award winner.
The annual award is named for past Assistant Chief Shepard Simmons, and is given each year to a member who goes above and beyond the call of duty and also serves as a guide for younger members.
"In his short time with the department, Cal has shown that he is going to be there for anyone who needs him," Assistant Fire Chief Jason Simmons, Shepard's son, said Thursday. "He's not going to be able to solve all the problems of the world, but he has shown over and over that he will do what he can and try and lead you in the right direction."
Simmons said that Lord's conversational nature and approachability reminded him of his dad. As some of the younger members talked with Lord and interacted with the pastor, Simmons said he could picture the way his own dad would take an interest and challenge members to better themselves every day.
It isn't just his work as a mentor, however. Simmons said the 61-year-old rookie firefighter has asked many questions and serving as motivator for members to constantly expand their knowledge and grow as both firefighters and individuals. He also has a knack for easing tensions and can lighten up an entire room.
"It is not uncommon to see Cal's infectious smile as he is cracking a joke at the station or helping to make a difficult call a bit more bearable," Simmons said.
The department presented Lord with the award last month and he said this week that it was "quite the surprise."
In addition to serving as pastor of Central Baptist Church, he is a board member with the Westerly-Pawcatuck Clergy Association and a volunteer chaplain with the Stonington Police Department.
It was in his role with the clergy association that Lord said he first became more active in working with first responders. He aided the Rev. Sunil Chandy, Episcopal rector at Christ Church, in Westerly, in starting the annual Blessing of the First Responders in 2016, an event that has grown into a communitywide celebration each September.
He also presides over the annual Westerly Fire Department Firemen's Memorial Sunday services.
Lord said he finds inspiration in those around him, including fellow members of the fire department. "I am very fortunate to belong to a church that believes and encourages me to serve the community as a whole," he said. "It is only natural that my role would lead me to get involved with first responders on a more regular basis."
Lord also said that while he is grateful for the recognition, there are many dedicated members of the department and the award could have gone to any of a half dozen worthy individuals
"The fire department has many impressive volunteers and I'm just happy to be part of the team," he said.