Twin Towers hero inspires local fire chaplain Wes Bust as he supports emergency services on the front line.
At the beginning of every day, Wes Bust, Salvation Army Fassifern Corps Officer (minister) and Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Associate Chaplain, prays: “Lord, take me where you want me to go. Let me meet who you want me to meet. Tell me what you want me to say and keep me out of your way.”
It is the prayer of one of Wes’s heroes, Father Mychal Judge, an Irish-American Franciscan and chaplain to the New York Fire Department. Mychal was the first listed casualty of the September 11 attack on the Twin Towers in 2001.
“When it comes to emergency chaplaincy, I am about the Lord’s business, but I don’t set the tasks,” says Wes. “I try to bring my experience, training and skills to first responders in an emergency space.”
As ongoing and unprecedented bushfires recently devastated parts of Queensland, Wes focused on the needs of firefighters and emergency services front-line responders — at one point, for 42 days in a row.
Wes works with a group of six other chaplains in the south-east corner of Queensland and specifically oversees the Scenic Rim Command, which includes Ipswich, the Lockyer Valley and Somerset.
The Canungra fire in the Gold Coast Hinterland, which started in September and burned for weeks, was in Wes’s area. He was there from day one.
“I was supporting the firefighters and also members of the public needing assistance,” he says. “It was a highly complex and volatile situation, so it’s good to have a chaplain to just ‘be there’.
“It’s challenging to know what will be happening from day to day, or what will be needed from the chaplains. Sometimes, especially when operations are in full swing, it could be checking to see if people are stopping for lunch. It could be holding a cup of tea or mobile phone while they step out, or listening to someone’s story, praying with them, connecting them with a specialist in certain areas, or being there if they need to open up in a safe space.
“It’s all about caring for the community and for the wellbeing of those in it.”
During ‘normal’ times, Wes is based at the Salvo Fassifern Corps, which includes the communities of Kalbar and Boonah. The ‘firies’ and other emergency services personnel can contact him whenever they like.
“They know I’m praying for their safe return at all times and that, with me, there is always an open door,” says Wes. “I consistently plant the seeds of hope, and let God look after the rest.”
The chaplains are part of an extensive team that works with emergency services personnel to provide the optimum support for their wellbeing. These include peer support officers, the Fire and Emergency Services Support Network, and specialist psychologists.
As a chaplain, Wes also goes out with the men and women of the fire brigade to house fires, road fatalities and other incidents and assists in that space.
“As with chaplaincy events, these are sacred spaces where people trust you in some of their most vulnerable life moments,” he says.
Wes’s volunteer work as a ‘firie’ with the Kalbar Fire Brigade adds a further dimension to his understanding of the role of emergency services personnel and the impact fires have on them and those directly affected by fires.
He also has an undergraduate degree specialising in trauma and grief, with ongoing study and ‘upskilling’.
“It’s an area I am so passionate about, with my focus being on working with individuals and groups in crisis and psychological and spiritual first aid,” he explains.
“And I pray that same prayer from Father Mychal, whether I’m out fighting a fire or serving as a chaplain and I believe that God is answering that prayer.”