City of Riverside Police and Fire Chaplains: “First responders to the first responders”

RIVERSIDE — Whether it be over a shared meal with a fire crew enjoying some down time together or at the scene of an active, critical incident, one ever-present group of dedicated individuals are guaranteed to be spotted – almost never in the foreground – observing, silently available, prepared to act as a source of strength and support to anyone who might need them in that moment.

They are the chaplains who serve their community in the form of being an always accessible resource for the firefighters, police officers, emergency communication’s dispatchers and other emergency service providers. They serve their community with compassion and a desire to help others through what could possibly be the worst day of their lives.

In a recent video produced by City of Riverside, Riverside Police and Fire Lead Chaplain Stephen Ballinger explained, “Chaplaincy is all about relationship building. It’s a ministry of presence, compassion, and silence.” 

“We want to build a relationship with our officers and with their families, but we also want to build a relationship with the community,” said Ballinger, who described chaplains as “the first responders of the first responders” as well as to the community they serve.

“They’re always available to be a comforting presence for any member of our community who needs them,” Police Chief Sergio Diaz said about the City’s chaplains.

But the chaplain’s job begins long before they are needed at the scene of a crisis, it begins in the relationships they first build with those who answer the midnight call for help.

“They aren’t sitting around waiting to get called when something terrible has happened,” Diaz explained. “They are on ride-alongs, they spend time at the station, they spend time with the officers and other employees.”

City of Riverside Fire Chief Michael Moore echoed Diaz’ sentiment, explaining, “They’ve been real visible in the stations or just stopping by to have a cup of coffee or sometimes to have lunch or dinner with the crews and we feel like that’s a great value of our chaplain program.

By spending time with those who provide the City’s emergency services before the emergencies happen, the chaplains have already become a known and integral part of the community. There is a pre-established trust and bond that can mean the difference between getting past a critical incident and just surviving it.

“These employees are exposed to so many things,” Diaz explained. “They see things that nobody should ever have to see, but at the end of the day, they’re all human beings. What they see, what they do, what they experience, does take its toll.”

“Nothing makes this terrible thing that just happened go away but maybe it’s a bit more bearable with the presence of somebody like the chaplains,” said Diaz.

Writer’s note: I, myself, benefited first hand from frequent and regular interactions with chaplain’s services, first for ten years as a soldier in the U.S. Army and later as a law enforcement officer with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. 

Whether it was spending quality time with one of our “thrill-junkie” chaplains who used to love riding shotgun with me on busy Friday and Saturday nights while patrolling the streets of Lake Elsinore, any number of times chaplains were available to comfort family members at the scene of yet another tragic, senseless and all-too-often preventable fatal accident, or building me back up after the 2006 accident that stole the career I had loved for so long, there was always a chaplain there; ready to offer a strong shoulder to rely on or an encouraging word – usually both. 

Even years after I was medically retired from the sheriff’s department, I always knew I could count on the regular phone calls from any of the several chaplains who worked with the sheriff’s department, helping me to celebrate my little victories or just helping me through the dark decade of recovery that followed my accident.

Thank you for all those phone calls, Chaplain Harley Broviak. You have no idea how much they always meant to me.


City of Riverside video


Contact the writer:

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Trevor Montgomery, who recently moved from Riverside County to Shasta County, runs Riverside County News Source and Shasta County News Source. Additionally, he writes for Riverside County based newspapers Valley News, The Valley Chronicle and Anza Valley Outlook as well as Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County.

Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg, breaking his back and suffering both spinal cord and brain injuries in an off-duty accident.

During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations, including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center and Lake Elsinore Station, along with other locations.

Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.

Trevor has been married for more than 27 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and has 13 children and 14 grandchildren.

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