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How Fighting the Marshall Fire Shaped the Way One Volunteer Chaplain Pastors

scott ross
Photo courtesy of Scott Ross

On Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021, the Marshall and Middle Fork wildfires devastated Boulder County in the state of Colorado. The fires spanned over 6,000 acres and destroyed nearly 1,000 homes. Scott Ross, who is a volunteer fire chaplain in Aurora, Colo., fought alongside the firefighters to put out the Marshall Fire and has been ministering to first responders in the aftermath.

Ross is also the Director of Church Partnerships for Trauma Healing at American Bible Society (ABS), and prior to joining ABS, he was a church planter and pastor for 25 years. He shared with ChurchLeaders what fighting the wildfire was like and how the experience has impacted the community and him personally.

Scott Ross: I Pastor People Who Don’t Know They Need a Pastor

ChurchLeaders: What do your duties as a volunteer fire chaplain typically entail?  

Scott Ross: My official role is to provide prayers during formal events and to support the fire crew in times of grief—like after a line-of-duty death or injury. My chief is very open to my participation in all aspects of the department from firefighter support to sitting in on training classes. He calls on me from time to time when situations warrant—like when one shift experienced an unusual number of incidents in one night or another time when a crew encountered a difficult traumatic injury call. Other than being on call, I stay present by sending resources for counseling and other support, and when I hear of family issues that come up (like death, illness, or divorce) I reach out to the various firefighters to let them know I’m available.

ChurchLeaders: Why did you decide to volunteer as a fire chaplain?  

Scott Ross: I believe it’s important to serve my community. I pastored for 25 years, and have always believed an important component of pastoring is serving the community at large, not just one local church. So, we served our neighbors by running a food pantry, cleaning up the neighborhood, being on the mayor’s clergy advisory board, etc. When I met the chief on a visit to the fire department with some of my grandkids and he asked if I’d consider being their chaplain, my wife and I prayed about it and after some time discerning, we felt it was a great way to serve those who serve.  And, besides, riding in fire trucks is really cool. 

ChurchLeaders: You were actually on the ground helping fight the Marshall fire, and that was your first time fighting a live fire, correct? Tell us about that experience. 

Scott Ross: I have had some basic fire training in a controlled environment to help me understand fire and how important my equipment is for protection. But that was it. So, yes, this was my first time in a real fire event. As we left the department I was told by a lieutenant that I might not get out of the truck.  

However, once we pulled into the first neighborhood it became clear we would need everyone to fight the fires. So I jumped out of the truck, put on my bunker gear and began responding to orders. Unfortunately, in a very short amount of time, because of the strength of the winds and burning embers flying around us we realized we’d have to leave. It was too dangerous.