Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services Chaplain Ron Little (center) is one of the gang at Station 10 in Jonesboro.
Talk about a baptismal by fire.
Ron Little was inducted into the public safety brotherhood his first night as chaplain for Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services.
"Someone shot right through the front door of a home in the north part of the county," said Little. "A man was killed. A child, held in his mother's arms, was also killed. When we arrived on the scene, the mother was walking along the street with the baby, who was obviously deceased."
It was 2001, and Little had not yet gone through recruit class with firefighters. But he had years of training in counseling as pastor of Tara Baptist Church, in Jonesboro.
"Right after that shooting, the guys were ready to talk," he said. "They don't need to talk after every time they see something traumatic, because they see trauma every time they go on a call. It really depends on where they are in their lives."
Another time, Little counseled emergency workers when a baby died after being hit by a car. Three of the medics had newborns, a fourth was a new grandfather. The accident hit too close to home, said Little.
"I tell them to take some time, regroup and let's talk," he said. "The department gives me the latitude to decide if they just need to go home, hug their kids and tell them they love them."
Little, 50, grew up in East Point, and Miami, Fla. His dad served in the Air Force, on the East Point Fire Department, and was an aircraft mechanic with now-defunct Eastern Airlines. Little met his wife in the seventh-grade. Two kids and two grandkids later, the couple is still going strong.
So is Little's devotion to God. He has pastored at Tara Baptist Church for 21 years. When Little learned the fire department was looking for a chaplain, he saw an opportunity to extend his ministry beyond the chapel walls.
"To be effective, you have to be around people," he said. "If you are around Christians all the time, you're not doing much good. Being chaplain is a ministry, a presence."
Little gets training from the Federation of Fire Chaplains, continuing education in counseling through his pastoral position and by completing the same basic recruiting class alongside rookie firefighters. Lt. Janice Kochevar has been impressed by his dedication.
"He went through recruit school with us," she said. "He experienced what we've experienced. We've had chaplains come and go over the years. It is comforting to know he's available, reassuring to know he's there for us. He's my first choice, if I needed to talk to someone."
Sgt. Kenyon Stanciel sees the relationship with Little as familial.
"He's a paternal figure, he talks to us one on one," said Stanciel. "He's very concerned about our welfare and emotional well-being as well as physical. He talks to us as a friend, a confidante. I know I can go to him day or night."
Little sees that assertion as being exactly as the relationship should be.
"Instead of being an outsider, I am part of their lives," he said. "And I know they're not just after the goodies."
Aw, yes, the goodies. Battalion Chief Jacque Feilke's eyes glazed over as she thought about the goodies Little has made and brought around weekly to county fire stations. "Chaplain Little brings us goodies every Friday," she said. "These are snacks he makes himself; they are so good."
Little said he gets the recipes online and tweaks them. "They expend so much energy fighting a fire," said Little. "These are energy bars to help restore them. But we have no problem getting them consumed, even if there isn't a fire."
In addition to providing comfort and counseling in times of tragedy, Little shares in routine life events, too. He presided over four marriages within the department this past summer, and rejoices at the births of babies. He led a prayer service for Capt. Melvin Adams' daughter, who is serving in Iraq. He’s preached memorial services.
"He is all about us as a whole," said Kochevar. "He's one of us."
Firefighter and emergency medical technician Keith Hurley said he appreciates that Little isn't overly preachy. "I feel better knowing he's here," said Hurley. "I know he'd help me, and he doesn't care what your religious beliefs are. You can talk to him as a normal person. I feel comfortable around him."
Feilke said Little is quick to respond to whatever the needs are, no matter the time or situation. "I called him very late at night once for a family who was upset and distraught over losing a relative," she said. "They didn't have a pastor. Chaplain Little began talking to them in the middle of the night on the phone. He gave such comfort, and they stopped panicking."