Oklahoma City's Fire Department Chaplain- A blessing to us all!
"Prreeeesent Arms!" A salute to a remarkable man......
By MITCH MEADOR
The Lawton Constitution
LAWTON, Okla. (AP) - The chaplain of 1st Battalion, 171st Field
Artillery, would rather be in the trenches than behind a desk.
That may be why he was on the scene after the Alfred P. Murrah
Federal Building was bombed on April 19, 1995. Or why he counseled
firefighters at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist
He considers it a privilege to have worked at both places.
Though he paid a price in terms of his health, he made lifelong
friendships. He helped save a life. And best of all, he helped
rescue workers who were struggling their way through the crises to
manage their stress.
In civilian life, he is the Oklahoma City Fire Department
chaplain. But for the past year, while this Multiple Launch Rocket
System battalion has provided homeland security for Fort Sill and
other posts, Maj. Teddy G. Wilson has been the unit's first
chaplain in years.
"Energetic" is the word Sgt. Fred W. Baker III uses to
describe him. Wilson stays busy, whether he's doing worship
services, attending funerals or helping to conduct them, providing
marriage counseling or putting on marriage enrichment retreats,
assisting with family support activities or advising on personnel
"I'm determined these guys who serve our country deserve the
best that can be provided," Wilson said.
He had intended to take the day of April 19, 1995, off. He had
taken the kids to school and was climbing back into bed to sleep
some more when the bomb went off. It shook the house seven miles
north of the downtown area, knocking objects off the bedroom
When it was reported that the Federal Building had been blown
up, he drove down and parked in front of the Methodist Church.
"I saw an ambulance. When I came around the ambulance, the
first thing I saw was a dead baby and a lady lying next to her
being treated. A medic was inside the ambulance. I identified
myself as an intermediate paramedic and chaplain for the fire
"I said, 'What can I do?' He said, 'Well, just grab some gloves
and get to work.' So I did."
An Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper with a flashlight led the way
inside the back of the building. He eventually made his way up to
the third floor, where one of his chiefs, Mike Shannon, was bent
over a woman.
Beside him was a desk turned upside down with a purse on top.
Wilson looked inside and saw new checks with the name "Nancy
Ingram." He leaned down and asked the woman if that was her name.
"Yes. How'd you know?" she asked, and he told her about the
purse sitting on the desk with everything in it.
Two state troopers, Larry Dillinger and Terry Morris, were
trying to lift a concrete slab off her.
"Wait a minute, guys, we've got to get an IV started because we
don't know what we've got there," Wilson said.
The woman was in a lot of pain and asking for morphine. Wilson
told her they couldn't do that but they could have a prayer.
A squad crew showed up and tried to use the Jaws of Life to pry
up the concrete, but they weren't strong enough. They were replaced
with Porta-Powers, hydraulic jacks that lift like house jacks.
The second bomb scare came as they were attempting to get the IV
started. Someone was yelling, "Run! Get out of the building!
They've found another bomb!"
"Nancy looked at me and said, "Please don't leave me.' I said,
'I'm not going to leave you. We've about got you out, so I'll
"The truck company guys heard us and said, 'Well, if you're not
leaving, I'm not leaving.' The furthest one down the line, trying
to shore up the concrete, said, 'I ain't, either."'
The troopers stayed, too. "Officially, we tell everybody it was
about 15 minutes, but it was actually 40 to 45 minutes," Wilson
"Please don't pull my legs off," he remembers Ingram saying to
him. "I laughed a little and said we won't, but under my breath, I
said, 'Please, Lord, don't let her legs come off."'
At last enough concrete had been removed to free her. The
biggest firefighter carried her downstairs over his shoulder with
two in front to clear the way and one behind to catch him if he
Wilson, who brought up the rear, said he felt a lot of elation
when she was loaded into the ambulance. That helped carry him
through the next 16 days, when he was doing critical incident
stress management for rescue workers of all agencies on the third
floor of the Bell One building.
To maintain confidentiality, no media was allowed.
"These were emotional defusings and debriefings, getting people
to verbalize emotions instead of internalizing them," he said.
"I'm still doing referrals for folks whose coping skills have
gotten them this far and have run out. This is eight years later,"
"Emergency workers are very resilient people and have great
coping skills for the most part, but they're human beings. If they
have unfinished business from other events, it piles up."
There was a resurgence of activity after Sept. 11, 2001.
"It was like taking a baseball bat and hitting our guys in the
stomach. They were wanting to throw up, couldn't eat or sleep. They
were having nightmares again. That was pretty traumatic for our
They also experienced a personal loss. The New York City Fire
Department's rescue chief, Ray Downey, had come to Oklahoma City
and had done a lot of training for the Oklahoma City Fire
He survived the collapse of the first tower at the World Trade
Center and had gone over to the other to get his people out. He was
caught in the second collapse and it was a long time before his
body was recovered.
The wife of one Oklahoma City firefighter took donations for his
family at the place where she worked and sent the money in a card
Wilson said Downey had two sons in the fire department, and he
was supposed to find Joey Downey and give him the card. Wilson
tried day after day for two weeks to find him amid the crowds and
"The last night I was there I was trying to catch a cab. I look
across the street and see a New York City firefighter walking by
himself, covered in dust. I offered him a ride, and then I noticed
his helmet, 'Squad 18.
' I said, 'Hey, I need to go by there and drop this off for Joey
"This guy looks over at me and says, 'I'm Joey Downey.' Now
there's 100 ways to get in that site, 100 ways to leave. It's the
last day of my second trip, and he's saying, 'Are you Chaplain
Wilson? I've been looking for you.'
"It was a God thing that He put us together on this one
street...It was just a blessing to see God work in that way through
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)