In May 2020, Rev. Leon VanWie was elected Chief Chaplain of the New York State Association of Fire Chaplains, an organization with over 350 members. Due to Covid-19 the annual meeting and training conference scheduled for Watertown in April 2020 was postponed until April 2021. Out of caution, the training and memorial service was delayed until August 2021. Chaplains from across New York State and one from North Carolina attended the four-day event.

Many chaplains were eager to meet in person, since last year’s conference had been cancelled, however, some were still hesitant because of the increase in Covid cases in New York State. One chaplain and his wife from Long Island registered for the conference but contracted Covid prior to the conference and the chaplain, unfortunately, died August 23. Several chaplains, who could not attend in person, were able to participate through the streaming service that was offered, however.

Dr. Ryan Noel Fraser, LCPT, ACPE Psychotherapist, Associate Professor of Bible and Pastoral Counseling at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tennessee, provided the training on “Crisis Counseling in Chaplaincy.” At the end of the classroom training, the chaplains put what they learned into practice during a drill, where the chaplains dealt with a victim who survived a terrorist attack.

A memorial service was held at Asbury United Methodist Church in Watertown where 22 chaplains, who had answered their last alarm in 2019 and 2020, were honored and remembered during a candle lighting and bell ceremony. Also, since this was the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we also remembered those killed that tragic day, especially the 343 from the FDNY.

At the annual banquet, held at the Ramada Inn, there was a swearing-in ceremony where members could celebrate and acknowledge the officers of the Chaplains’ Association.

Chaplain VanWie has worked to enhance the connections of the chaplains throughout the state by offering semi-weekly communications lifting up common concerns of the chaplains and the sharing of joys, concerns, and death notices. The chaplains have also participated in several online gatherings to help get to know each other.           

– Fire News photos courtesy of Julie K. Covey

Are You a Fire Chaplain?

Want to join the NYS Association of Fire Chaplains? Contact Chief Chaplain Leon VanWie at

Photo caption for 12-8 Li A(5)
(Above): Chaplain Thomas With (1st Deputy Chief Chaplain from Colonie, NY), Chaplain Richard Bolster (2nd Deputy Chief Chaplain from Malone, NY) Paul Simmons conducting the swearing in, and Chief Chaplain Leon VanWie. (Below): Chaplain Thomas Flander, Jr. (Fonda, NY) extinguishing candles; Chaplain Thomas Doyle (Saranac, NY) tolling the bell.