TOWNSEND -- "It's an honor to serve those who serve."
As the first female firefighter hired in East Hartford, the Rev. Shayna Appel knows what she is talking about. The minister of the Townsend Congregation Church is now one of two Fire/EMS Department chaplains.
"Every year, the second week of June, we gather to celebrate fallen firefighters. It's part of a national celebration and awareness of firefighters who die in the line of duty," she said.
"People in town are always so grateful when folks show up and do what they do," she said. "I'd like to extend an invitation to say thanks to the guys."
This year a brief ceremony will take place Sunday, June 9, at 1 p.m. at the Firefighters Memorial in front of Spaulding Memorial School. It will only last about 15 minutes.
"We'd just love not to see you on the cot in the back of our ambulance or not when your house is burning down," she said. "I know the people in town are really grateful."
Some stop by the station with baked goods or send a note to say thank you for what the department has done, she said.
"Budget cuts have made it really hard to bring personnel on. It does impact the job. To be honest, it makes it more dangerous -- less personnel and old equipment," she said.
Most of Townsend's firefighters and emergency medical technicians are on call. That presents yet other challenges. "For many of these guys, this is not a primary job," Appel said. They may be out working all night or during weekend storms they may be on calls for two days and still have to go to work the next morning."
During a weekday when most responders are at work, it can take a long time for an ambulance to arrive. After Appel waited for help with a woman with a shoulder injury, she decided to renew her certifications and go on call for the department. "That delay motivated me to get involved," she said.
The dangers faced by firefighters do not end when the fire is out. Toxic materials, still off-gassing while the fire crew ensures the fire is completely out, can cause health problems down the road. "Nowadays a lot of guys are dying of cancer," she said. Those deaths are now considered to be in the line of duty.
For firefighters and EMTs, it is about more than the job description. They train weekly. They may be found out passing the boot for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. They pitch in and help people who need a hand. A crew designed, procured materials and built a ramp for the wife of one of their colleagues when she returned home in a wheelchair.
Part of Appel's job for the department is to run a debriefing immediately after incidents to help the responders deal with stress, a tactic she called psychological first aid. "It's a really brilliant modality of working. Anybody can be taught to do it and it prevents further injury down the road," she said.
"Once post-traumatic scar tissue forms, it gets activated over and over," Appel said. "Name it, list it, get it out in the open. They can go on and have long and fulfilling careers."
And, she would like Townsend residents to say thank you to the men and women who are there to serve them by attending the ceremony. "They're a sweet bunch of guys and women," she said.