July 5, 2023 707 PM
ALPINE — Last week, the Alpine Volunteer Fire Department celebrated firefighter Shelby Green as she completed training to assume the role of chaplain. Green’s training will help her provide support to first responders — and the folks they care for — as they work through traumatic experiences.
Green has five years of firefighting experience. She was moved to join the Rossville Volunteer Fire Department after a fire broke out on her family’s ranch — as they waited for help to arrive, she and her dad tried to keep it at bay. “I remember how excited I was when the fire department finally got there and we were able to put the fire out before it got to one of the houses,” she said.
She enrolled at Sul Ross after high school and is about to go into her senior year studying range and wildlife management. Shortly after moving to Alpine, she signed up to serve the Alpine Volunteer Fire Department and has split time between both her hometown and college town departments ever since.
In December, Green was nominated for the position of chaplain in Rossville, and the two departments agreed to split the cost of her training. She earned her certification by completing a series of training sessions online, covering topics from mental first aid to mandatory reporting.
Green explained that the concept of “mental first aid” treats mental health just as seriously as physical health. “It’s addressing the issue as it happens so it doesn’t build up and like a wound would and get infected,” she said.
Within the fire department, her training empowers her to help first responders who are struggling with feelings that might arise from taking part in traumatic situations. “Each first responder has a call that’s going to stick with them,” she said. “They don’t want to go home and talk about these things with their family because they don’t want their families to be bothered by it.”
In many situations, therapy carried out by a professional can help — but chaplains can still provide something indispensable to their teammates. “Even if they’re seeking counseling outside of first responding, it’s harder for people to understand the same way that another first responder would,” she said.
On the flip side, Green’s training also provided her with tools to help people at the scene of an emergency. She can provide comforting words to a patient transported to the hospital by ambulance, or she can help someone stranded at the scene of an accident get a ride home. Once first responders deal with the immediate crisis, she can help connect them with long-term professional care.
Chaplains are most frequently associated with religious institutions, but Green can provide comfort and support to anyone, regardless of their spirituality. “I try to find what will work best for each individual,” she said.
Being adaptable is key, especially in a remote environment. Both Rossville and Alpine are rural departments struggling with many of the same challenges. “We have to learn to work with less funding and supplies,” she explained. “A lot of times that affects our gear, our equipment and our ability to help each other and the community.”
She was excited to bring something new to each of the departments she serves. “It’s one more step to try to make our departments better and to be able to better serve our communities.”