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Priest adds Lewis County emergency services to chaplaincy resume

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LOWVILLE — A local Roman Catholic priest donned a fire helmet long before he put on the traditional robes of his order.

So, it seems only natural that the Rev. Christopher C. Carrara — pastor of St. Peter’s Church, St. Hedwig’s Church in Houseville and St. Mary’s Church in Glenfield — would add chaplaincy of Lewis County fire and emergency services to his already extensive resume of volunteer service.

“It’s a perfect fit,” said county Legislature Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan.

“It was a hole we didn’t have covered before,” said James M. Martin, the county’s director of fire and emergency services.

Lawmakers recently authorized Mr. Martin to appoint a clergy deputy fire coordinator, and Father Carrara — who has served as chaplain of the Lewis County Sheriff’s Department since 2010 and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department since 1995 — was named to the new unpaid post.

“It’s a volunteer service to the people of the county,” the priest said. “It’s good that the legislators saw the need.”

Mr. Tabolt, an honorary member of the Croghan Volunteer Fire Department after many years of active service on both its fire and ambulance squads, said not all needs of emergency victims and their family members can be met by first responders.

“In some cases, the spiritual comfort may be the only treatment available,” he said.

County law enforcement and emergency leaders all agreed that in stressful situations such as fires and accidents, a chaplain can play a vital role in counseling both those involved in and those responding to emergencies.

“The presence of the chaplain is comforting to the scene,” said Robert A. Mackenzie III, the county’s emergency medical services coordinator.

“When all else fails, I’ll say the father is a person of reason and understanding and a confidante to all,” Sheriff Michael P. Carpinelli said, crediting his predecessor, L. Michael Tabolt, with adding the department chaplain. “He’s a calm in the storm.”

Father Carrara, who was ordained as a priest in the Ogdensburg diocese in 1994, became a junior firefighter with the Selden Fire Department on Long Island back in 1980 at the age of 16, then joined the department in 1982 and became an associate chaplain for that fire district in 1986. He then became a certified emergency medical technician in the late 1980s, earned a certificate of critical incident stress management in 2000 and completed incident command certification in 2006.

The priest has been a member of several other fire departments and served as a chaplain for various law enforcement, fire and emergency service agencies in Suffolk, Franklin and Jefferson counties before coming here.

He also is a member of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, a full member of the International Conference of Police Chaplains and a life member of the New York State Association of Fire Chaplains.

Father Carrara noted emergency services chaplaincy follows the military model of service to anyone in need, regardless of denomination or religious persuasion.

“You are a chaplain for everyone,” he said.

Father Carrara — referred to on emergency radio calls as “FC7” for fire service and “Clergy 1” for law enforcement — said he already has attended some meetings of the Lewis County Fire Advisory Board and made a few official appearances at fire and accident scenes and at the funeral of a fire department member.

“I seemed to be well received,” he said.

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