Fr. Bob Jones has heard the call many times over the years. First by the Good Lord, who called himto religious life as a young man growing up near Boston, and then decades later by the pager on his hip that calls him to burning buildings and car crashes as a member of the Epworth Volunteer Fire Department.
For more than a decade, Fr. Bob carried the pager while he worked in administration at Divine Word College. He left in 1992, reassigned to Miramar, where he served as rector of the SVD community. He returned to Epworth in June to work in the Development Office and has rejoined the Epworth volunteers. The pager is back on his belt and he still responds to the calls, this time solely as the department’s chaplain.
“I don’t have the physical stamina to do all that stuff that I used to do, but I’ll be there,” he said. “I know what they are doing and what they are going through.”
Born in York Harbor, Maine in 1939, his family moved to the Boston area when he was in 8th grade. A visiting priest, Fr. Bill Hagen, SVD, opened his eyes to the life of a missionary, telling stories of his time in Papua New Guinea. The bug bit, and after attending both public school and the minor seminary at Duxbury, Massachusetts, he entered the novitiate at Conesus, New York in 1957 and was ordained in 1968. He spent ten years at the SVD school in Perrysburg, Ohio where he taught classes, was the athletic director and did vocation work. Because he frequently did talks about the missions, he was then sent overseas to experience missionary life, which included a stop in Papua New Guinea for a little more than a year. Then he was called to Epworth.
He arrived at Divine Word College in August, 1981 to become vice president for Development. That November, then-Fire Chief Dan McDermott invited him to give a talk at the department’s annual banquet. The next day, McDermott asked him if he’d consider being their chaplain.
“I said, ‘No, but I’ll be a firefighter first, then I’ll be a chaplain when you need me,’” Fr. Bob said. McDermott pitched the idea to the rest of the volunteers and they voted him in. “I thought it was great. I always wanted to be a fireman. I had an uncle who was a firefighter and I used to love his stories”
Now he has his own stories, like the one about his first fire where he was asked to connect two water lines into a larger one—a set up called the “Siamese”—which focuses a lot of water on a single spot.
“They didn’t tell me this, but when you open the Siamese, it kicks you right back. So, there I am, right on my…wallet…and my hat’s down over my face,” he said. “This was my first day. They wait for you to do that. They knew that was going to happen. I didn’t know, but now I do.”
There are many more stories, a decade’s worth, and too many are not as light hearted. In the 1980s, because the department had an ambulance, they needed guys to become Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). Fr. Bob and a dozen others became paramedics. Over the course of time he saw his share of tragedy, and often his chaplain duties were required. One time in particular stands out in his mind. The department responded to the scene of a motorcycle accident. The rider’s head injuries were so extensive; the ambulance crew could do nothing to save him.
“So I anointed him there and the guys were just stunned. They were so quiet and attentive when I did that,” he said. “When I recall that, I get goose bumps. To me that was both doing your medical and fire rescue work and your chaplain duties. You stand in both arenas, the now and the hereafter.”
Rejoining the volunteers at the Epworth Fire Department was one of the reason Fr. Bob agreed to come back to DWC. Volunteer firefighters and EMTs are a special breed, willing to put their own safety on the line for others—voluntarily.
“These volunteers are here because they want to be here. They are classy people,” he said. “There are two kinds of people; the givers and the takers. These people are the givers.”
And Fr. Bob still hears the call to join them.