Priest provides prayer, practical help in emergencies
by Jessica Langdon
FRANKFORT — As a pastor, Father Pat Sullivan is committed to stoking the fire of faith in his parishioners’ hearts.
And as a volunteer, he’s committed to serving his community when real fires or other emergencies occur.
Father Sullivan is pastor of Annunciation Parish in Frankfort, St. Columbkille Parish in Blaine, and St. Monica-St. Elizabeth Parish in Blue Rapids.
He wanted to help his communities soon after he assumed his parochial assignments, so he became a chaplain for the Frankfort Volunteer Fire Department. Like other members of the department, he responds to fire or emergency calls, sometimes accompanying ambulance crews.
He offers the sacraments to Catholics, and comfort and spiritual assistance to all.
As long as he can remember, Father Sullivan couldn’t ignore the wail of sirens or the flashing of passing emergency lights.
He would immediately say a prayer, a practice he learned from his mother Rosemarie.
“If an ambulance went by, she’d say a Hail Mary for the emergency workers and whoever might be affected,” said Father Sullivan. “It’s an emergency, even if it’s not life-or-death. Someone needs prayers and that’s the quickest way you can jump in and do something.”
Before he answered the call to the priesthood, he responded to crime scenes as an evidence technician with the Kansas City, Mo. Police Department.
After ordination, just as he was learning the ropes as a chaplain with the Johnson County Fire District, he was named to his current position in Frankfort.
But it didn’t take long before he sparked a friendship with Annunciation parishioners Paul and Melody Tommer. Paul has been chief of Frankfort’s volunteer fire department for nearly 30 years, and Melody serves as the director of the all-volunteer ambulance service.
‘An asset to us’
Paul Tommer was quick to accept Father Sullivan’s offer to serve as chaplain. Previously, a Methodist minister from Marysville occasionally aided the department by conducting debriefings after traumatic events, but he had been transferred.
So Father Sullivan stepped up.
He provides sacramental support to the ill and injured, pastoral support for the other spiritual needs of emergency workers, and critical incident debriefing to crews — something especially needed after traumatic events and deaths.
When he is not otherwise occupied, Father Sullivan hauls equipment and helps in whatever ways he can.
“He wanted to get more involved,” said Paul Tommer. “I started showing him the trucks.”
That’s all it took. Father Sullivan quickly started learning his way around the firehouse and its equipment.
Seeing the local priest waving from behind the wheel of a fire truck has caused some double takes, Melody Tommer said. At the same time, his presence during some of people’s most desperate hours offers a lot of comfort. Many have accepted his blessing as they brace for a trip to the hospital, unsure of what lies ahead for them.
Father Sullivan received his own set of gear and a pager — and soaked in as much training as he could.
“He’s really been an asset to us,” said Paul Tommer. “He’s a good role model.”
Father Sullivan participates in all the regular volunteer training sessions, like this fall’s mock car crash scene in which the department practiced a rescue using the Jaws of Life.
“We played it like it was the real scene,” said Father Sullivan.
As first responders, the members of this department know all too well the difference a split second can make on a country road.
There are few city streets compared to the many miles of rural roadways with much higher speed limits in the 200-plus square miles the fire department covers.
So the 36 members of the fire department face the special anxiety of knowing that it might be a friend or neighbor at the accident scene where they are responding.
Father Sullivan hasn’t yet been called out when flames are devouring someone’s home — and hopes that never happens — but he has seen plenty of calls for help when fields catch fire, especially during the hot, dry spring and summer that just passed.
“It usually is somebody’s field that has their crops in it — their livelihood,” he said.
Jesus in the world
Father Sullivan finds inspiration in the volunteer firefighters, emergency medical technicians and law enforcement out working together to help people.
“It just gives me great encouragement. I know these people well — not from being on the fire department with them, but because they’re members of this small community,” he said.
Father Sullivan — like everyone in the department — works his volunteer duties around his regular responsibilities.
“We don’t expect him to miss Mass,” Paul Tommer said with a laugh.
But he has been impressed by the pastor’s willingness to stay and help at long events, even knowing he has a full day ahead of him.
As a priest, responding to these scenes reminds Father Sullivan of the necessity to have Jesus in one’s life.
And just as a priest is expected to act as Jesus walking in the world today, he sees Jesus in everyone working around him.
Melody Tommer has relished watching the parish priest take on this new role.
“It’s nice because you can sit there and talk and he gives you a different perspective,” she said, “and he helps you make sense of what you’re dealing with.
“I just think it’s an asset. It’s very comforting to us that he’s there — kind of like our church is going with us.”