Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Greater Phoenix Chapter

Old Home Home Contact Us Upcoming
Church State Issues Report Church State Violations Join
Email List
Email List
Membership Donations Request
Facebook Meetup Links Send Letter to Editor


Church State Issues

Mixing government and religion at the Mesa Fire Department.

Nov 27, 2010

By: Senta Scarborough

I wonder how much government money is spent on this?

Volunteer fire chaplain meets men where they are

The Arizona Republic

Nov. 27, 2007 06:06 PM

Don Coble is all smiles as he makes his way around Mesa Fire Station 206 patting backs and cracking jokes.

Wearing his navy blue fire department T-shirt, the silver-haired 71-year-old grandfather blends in with the firefighters getting ready for lunch.

Any other day, Coble might stay around and have a bite of what he calls the too-healthy fare they serve up. Don, and anyone who knows him, will tell you he prefers old-fashioned cake donuts.

But the department's volunteer fire chaplain can't stick around today. He's busy heading to another station to finish his goodbyes.

Wednesday is his last on the job.

For five years, Coble, a pastor, trauma counselor and retired Army Lt. Col., has gone wherever needed providing counseling, comic relief and encouragement to the nearly 500 firefighters and staff in Mesa.

It's a job Coble never sought, but one he has learned to love.

Coble was a pastor in California when he had a heart attack and decided to stop full-time preaching. He and his wife, Jackie, moved to the Valley to be near their oldest son. They had barely unpacked the boxes when Mesa fire called. A friend of his son, Capt. Dean Morales, thought of Coble when the department was looking for a new fire chaplain.

It's a difficult job to fill. The chaplain is part of a peer critical incident stress management team that is called out around the clock to the most traumatic calls firefighters handle, like a child drowning or line-of-duty injury. A firefighter's job is stressful, working 24-hour shifts, providing medical care or fighting fires. When someone notices another firefighter having a tough time, they'll give Coble a call.

Coble will show up, ride on some calls, or hang out at the station and talk. He has visited firefighter's families in the hospital and officiated at funerals and weddings.

Coble, who volunteers about 30 hours per week, tell firefighters that they need to manage the stress from the job and their own lives or it will manage them. Morales says the stress doesn't stay on the job but can follow you home.

"Some of these guys have been dumped on since kids, had some hard knocks and serious losses in family members and tough situations," Coble said. "We got to know each other and talked and shared and they opened up and healed and laughed and are high-fiving and giving it 100 percent."

Firefighters credit Coble with saving lives, holding families together and keeping them on the job.

"He does it so quietly. A lot of people don't realize the outstanding impact he has made on this department," said Michele Adamczyk, a fire and life safety specialist. "He has made a difference in everyone's life."

It's the mixture of Coble's military service, trauma counseling and life experience - he just celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary - that make him the perfect fit for the job.

Don't let the jokes and donuts mislead you, Coble is a "man's man." He is as tough as it gets but also is easy-going, genuine and unassuming.

Coble lost his father in high school. He joined the Army and was one of the first 500 men sent by President Kennedy to Vietnam. He served two tours there, oversaw hundreds of men in his command, and eventually worked at the Pentagon. When he returned from Vietnam Coble felt "buddy" guilt because he had survived. He dealt with the trauma and stress by throwing himself into his work.

"What he saw, the physical and emotional trauma, we can't match that. He has been there and came out the other side looking good and in good shape. I think it makes the difference," Morales said. "I know that in 20 years I have had only one call that took me out of the game for a short time and haunted me. After talking to Don, he got me back in the game again."

It was his wife's return to faith that turned his life around. One morning, Coble's son asked him while he was nursing a hangover why he never went to church. He got an electric razor, cleaned up and went.

At 35, he gave his life to Christ.

Just before leaving the service, he found himself jumping on picnic tables preaching to men. Some local pastors approached him over coffee and donuts, telling him they thought he had a calling to preach to men.

Coble jumped in with both feet. He attended seminary, started churches in Alaska, Oregon and California, and became certified in trauma counseling.

"He is easy to talk to and very personable," says firefighter Mark Keller. "He gives you good advice. Something he has already lived or something he has learned in school . . . He helps you without you even knowing it."

When Coble started volunteering as chaplain in Mesa, he spent the first year riding with different crews to get to know the staff and the job. He declined to keep a log of visits with the firefighters because he knew people wouldn't come to him.

For Coble, his work is about defusing the crisis, providing encouragement, and helping identify the stressors.

"When you sit in the room and see the lights come on in these people's lives, that's all the reward I ever want because God does the work, I don't," Coble said. "It means I am the screwdriver, a pair of pliers, a socket wrench in the hands of Christ and he fixes it."

Greg Adams, a firefighter and member of the critical incident stress management team, credits Coble with breaking down barriers and boundaries.

"I am not a religious person at all. Some make you uncomfortable with the way they behave. You don't get that from Don," Adams said.

Both Adams and Morales say Coble has been a mentor, teaching them life and leadership skills.

"He leaves you feeling good. He is a father figure," Adams said. "They look up to him because of his background and the way he handles situations straight forward. He will tell you what he thinks and you believe him because he has been there."

Along with firefighters, Coble credits his wife, Jackie, for supporting his work.

Always the joker, Coble says he plans to spend time fishing, picking lint out of his navel and playing "kissy face" with his wife as he heads into retirement.

But until a new chaplain is found, firefighters tell Coble to keep his pager ready. And when they call him, they better be bringing the donuts.

Complain about this violation of Church & State to:

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith a government tyrant that doesn't believe in separation of church and state???

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith

Phone: 480-644-2388

Dave Richins a government tyrant that doesn't believe in separation of church and state???

Councilmember Dave Richins

Fax: 480-644-2175

Alex Finter a government tyrant that doesn't believe in separation of church and state???

Councilmember Alex Finter

Fax: 480-644-2175

Dennis Kavanaugh a government tyrant that doesn't believe in separation of church and state???

Councilmember Dennis Kavanaugh

Fax: 480-644-2175

Christopher Glover a government tyrant that doesn't believe in separation of church and state???

Councilmember Christopher Glover

Phone:480-644- 3004
Fax: 480-644-2175

Dina Higgins a government tyrant that doesn't believe in separation of church and state???

Councilmember Dina Higgins

Fax: 480-644-2175

Scott Somers a government tyrant that doesn't believe in separation of church and state???

Vice Mayor Scott Somers

Phone: 480-644-4003
Fax: 480-644-2175

Office of the Mayor & Council
City of Mesa
PO Box 1466
Mesa, AZ 85211-1466