Delaware Group Offers Support in Times of Crisis

They're there at any time of day or night when houses catch fire and cars collide.

First responders are the first on the scene. They are the men and women to count on when someone needs help, but who helps them?

Dr. Chuck and Sharon Betters, founders of MARK Inc. Ministries, realized the firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics and police officers need help, and created a CD titled "First Responders -- Wounded Healers: Learning to See When the Lights Go Out."

"The purpose of this is to address the issues first responders experience," Sharon said. "They are in the darkness saving lives, but who is there to help them cope with what they experience?"

Following the October 2006 massacre in an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, Christiana Fire Company volunteer firefighter and former New Castle County paramedic Dave Horackin of Newark decided to deliver the CDs to firehouses in the area surrounding the schoolhouse.

Christiana firefighter Art Trout of Bear offered to join Horackin. The two men attend Glasgow Reformed Presbyterian Church, where fellow member Bryan Clark of Middletown also stepped in for the journey.

"I didn't realize how many firehouses there are up there," Horackin said. "We decided we needed to get the focus down a little more."

Together, the men became the "First Responders Team."

They now sacrifice many of their weekends to travel to firehouses who have experienced a "line of duty death," or loss of a member in the line of duty.

They wait about a month or two after the tragedy for their unannounced visits. While there, they distribute the CDs and spend time bonding with other firefighters.

"These people are despaired," Clark said. "Our whole idea is to bring hope in the midst of tragedy."

Horackin said when they arrive at a firehouse, they "talk shop" about the equipment and try to relate to and form friendships with the other firefighters.

"The brotherhood of firefighters is such that we're always welcome," Trout said. "We're never turned away. My best friend was killed in a fire, so I can relate to them when we talk to them."

Horackin said those who need to talk come to the men on their own. Sometimes they will spend hours with the firefighters.

"We're there as a fire brother," he said. "When people die, you don't know what to do and sometimes just sitting there with them is enough. We talk about what they want to talk about."

Sharon said the men have brought back several stories of how they visited a firehouse at just the right time.

Trout said they met Mike Koonce, deputy fire chief and chaplain of the Jacksonville, N.C., Fire Department, during one of their trips.

"He was thinking of dropping out from becoming a minister," Horackin said. "After he talked to us, he stayed in and became a pastor."

Koonce said there were two line of duty deaths in Onslow County, N.C., near his fire department. He trained both of the deceased firefighters.

"Art, Bryan and Dave heard about it and sent me an email. I see this email and I don't know these guys, but they offered their help," he said. "We had two funerals in two days. It was pretty overwhelming at the time."

Koonce said he took the "First Responders Team" to various fire departments in the county and after he saw the comfort their visits provided to other firefighters, he decided to start the group's first affiliate with his own team of men who travel to firehouses during times of need.

"How do we serve the ones who have witnessed all these tragedies?" he said. "Eventually they build up and firefighters can experience post-traumatic stress.

"Our job is to provide comfort and have an outlet for them," Koonce said. "The biggest part of getting over it is to release it and get it out. We really feel like this is what we're supposed to do."

Clark said they try to revisit the men and women and keep in touch over time.

"We build relationships when we're in an area, so we go back," he said. "We're hoping to make a difference. We just want to be there as support."

A bulletin board in the MARK Inc. Ministries office in Glasgow Presbyterian Reformed Church is now covered with patches of firehouses they've visited. The First Responder Team also has a patch they trade with the firefighters they meet.

Last weekend, the men traveled to Conshohocken, Pa., to meet with the family of Washington Fire Department firefighter Jeremy Labella, who died last year during a fire at a motorcycle shop. He was 27.

"A firefighter has lost their life doing a job they enjoyed," Horackin said. "We do this because there are firefighters who are suffering."

For more information about MARK Inc. Ministries, go to www.mark

Republished with permission from The Middletown Transcript