GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – Gary Rogers took a less-traveled path to become a first responder.

More than 20 years ago, he was a church pastor. That’s when the Parker Fire District in Greenville County asked if he would be their chaplain.

“Had no idea about fire service, no background in fire service at that time,” Rogers said. “But when I started going to the stations and visiting as a chaplain, I got bitten by the firefighter bug.”

Rogers got his fire training and served as a volunteer firefighter for more than two decades. 

The chief at the Boiling Springs Fire District asked Rogers to join their department in Greenville about five years ago as a full-time chaplain.

“It is incredibly unique,” according to Rogers. “It is almost unheard of, perhaps is unheard of, in the state of South Carolina.”

Rogers keeps a radio handy and responds to service calls where he thinks a chaplain may be needed.

“Lot of times there’s a family member there who needs somebody just to be with them,” he told 7NEWS. “And having fire training, whatever the call may be, I can be with them, and I can kind of explain what’s going on, what’s happening.”

Rogers can be invaluable in that situation, but what he calls a “ministry of presence” also applies to firefighters. 

The chaplain tells us firefighters have to see and face disturbing situations on calls. The “tough guy” image in dealing with those scenes is something Rogers takes on directly.

“It’s OK now to admit when some of these calls are bothering us (first responders) and that is a culture change, a shift in thinking, because for so many years, it was not OK to admit that calls bothered you.”

The chaplain doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, but he knows talking situations out with firefighters is the best way to deal with any issues.

“There’s a power in talking it out. not packing it down,” according to Rogers. “That’s what we were guilty of for so long. Pack it down, and pack it down. And if you do that for so long it going to come out and it’s going to come out in a very negative way.”

“So, talking these things out, kind of a debriefing or defusing it, helps to bring it out of us in a positive way.”

Rogers carries the rank of battalion chief with the Boiling Springs Fire District in Greenville.