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Evanston Fire Departments chaplains provide support

The Evanston Fire Department doesn’t just have one chaplain, but two.

Monte Dillard and Heath Howe, Evanston Fire Department’s chaplains, started their positions in the summer of 2020.

Fire Chief Paul Polep said the chaplains are vital support for members of the fire department. He said they provide a system of support built on trust the chaplains have earned with department members.

“In a fire department or a police department, the more you see the more you can become called to things,” Polep said. “Having a support system, like the chaplains that we have, to be able to reach out and bring yourself back to normal, it’s a good thing.”

Their work is multi-faceted, but centers around building relationships with members of the Evanston Fire Department, Dillard said. Along with other responsibilities, this requires visiting the firehouses and arriving at the scene during crises.

Part of their role as chaplains is also to comfort victims, Howe said. This isn’t a task naturally built into the jobs of other fire department members.

Chaplains are also sometimes called to non-emergency scenes, Polep said.

“It’s not always the house fires, it’s not always the water rescues, it’s not always the … big call,” Polep said. “Sometimes it’s just a call where we could use a little help.”

It’s common for the chaplains to follow up with members of the fire department and victims of situations, at times even making hospital visits, he said.

The two chaplains’ relationships with firefighters aren’t confined to the workplace. Dillard said he communicates with some department staff regularly on social media, and recently noticed a department member in his congregation.

While their work as fire chaplains is very demanding, both chaplains said their faith keeps them centered.

“At least for Christians, (giving) is a part of our call,” Howe said. “So for me to be able to give to the Evanston community … that’s a part of why I like it.”

While fire department staff and victims know about the Chaplain’s support network, they can choose how much to engage with them. The chaplains said they seek to provide support to whoever needs it across all cultures.

Dillard and Howe filled a vacancy left by Howe’s late husband, David Jones, who served as the department’s chaplain from 2011 until his passing in 2020.

After Jones’ passing, former fire chief Brian Scott asked Howe if she would be interested in taking up the role. While Jones performed the work as a retiree, Howe worked full time as an Episcopalian priest, which made her nervous about the time commitment.

“Long story short, I said to Brian, ‘What if there were two of us?'” Howe said.

Not long after, Dillard was offered the role after several department members, including Polep, heard him speak at a youth mentorship event.

Howe is the rector of Church of the Holy Comforter in Kenilworth and Dillard serves as senior pastor at First Church of God Christian Life Center in Evanston. Dillard said working together allows them to best serve the fire department, their congregations and each other.

“One of the things I think we’ve benefited from, Heath and I, is our relationship,” Dillard said. “Both of us are able to depend and lean on each other at times to make sure that ground is covered.”

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @lukehjordan

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