Story by S.L. Hansen
CAMPBELL (SNR) - Father James Schrader, pastor of St. Anne Church in Campbell and its mission, Holy Trinity in Blue Hill, has been a volunteer firefighter and sheriff’s chaplain for more than 30 years. He is currently Campbell’s most senior volunteer firefighter.
It all started when he was pastor of St. James in Mead and a guidance counselor at Bishop Neumann Jr./Sr. High School in Wahoo.
“I wanted to do something that would serve the whole community and the area that didn’t involve politics,” Father Schrader recalled.
So, he trained to become a volunteer firefighter.
“I admit it – I’m an adrenaline junkie,” Father Schrader laughed.
Volunteer firefighters have been in the U.S. since 1736. Benjamin Franklin established the first volunteer fire brigade in Philadelphia. In rural areas and small towns throughout the nation, volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are crucial to members of their communities.
Father Schrader explained. “Hastings has [the nearest] paid fire department, but we are 40 miles away from Hastings… There’s an obvious need for people who are trained to be able to respond quickly in an emergency, natural disaster, fire or rescue.”
He specializes in interior fire fighting – meaning he’s one of the team who goes in first to rescue people, and then to fight the fire from the inside of the structure. He also took EMT training.
Shortly after becoming a volunteer firefighter, Father Schrader expanded his community service to the sheriff’s office as chaplain.
“A deputy from Saunders County stopped one night with the idea, and I said okay,” he said.
As chaplain, Father Schrader has helped officers cope with troubling experiences, as well as comforted citizens during traumatic incidents.
In whatever community he has been assigned by the bishop, Father Schrader has offered his services as a volunteer firefighter, EMT and sheriff’s chaplain. Over the last 36 years, that’s included Mead, Weston, Harvard, Prague, Curtis, and Campbell.
Because he was trained as a high school guidance counselor, he also had the opportunity to become a member of the state’s Critical Incident Stress Management Group. Father Schrader served in that capacity until the travel schedule got in the way of his other duties.
Meanwhile, he has served whatever parish he’s been assigned to with astounding energy and efficiency. His current parishes have been growing and thriving. He’s even handled several renovation and building projects, launched an acolyte program at Holy Trinity, and still finds time to coach several school sports teams.
“He has not only served God and the parishes under his jurisdiction in his priestly vocation, but is a down- to-earth person who connects in a positive manner with every person he meets,” said parishioner and news correspondent Carolyn Mazour. “He is truly a servant of God.”
Recently, Father Schrader decided to step down as EMT and just stick to firefighting and serving as sheriff’s chaplain for Clay and Franklin counties. It was a decision that was purely practical.
“Being the dean of the Lawrence deanery, I am on the road a lot,” he reasoned. “It seemed like a lot of the ambulance calls were during the day… although there is a lot in the middle of the night, too.”
Father Schrader laughed, adding, “I’m 69 years old. I don’t jump out of bed as fast as I used to.”
He keeps a spare set of firefighting gear in the back of his vehicle, just in case he’s called to a fire while he’s away from Campbell. He also keeps holy oils in the car so he can administer Last Rites if necessary.
Every fire is a dangerous situation, but Father Schrader has said he is never afraid, not even for his first fire in Mead, which was a highway accident involving two vehicles – one a semi tanker loaded with diesel fuel.
“If you are fighting a fire, you have to respect it,” he explained. “It moves, it breathes, and it eats. If you’re in the building and things start to go south, you’ve got to know when to get out so you don’t jeopardize the guys on your crew.”
That’s not to say Father Schrader isn’t praying his heart out during an emergency call.
“You get really close to Jesus!” he exclaimed.
While he is able to remain calm and collected during emergency calls, Father Schrader admits to succumbing to tears after particularly difficult situations.
“The three worst calls I’ve ever been on were all involving sudden infant death syndrome,” he said.
He said there were a lot of similarities between being a priest and being an emergency first responder.
“In the church, a priest serves God and His people. With fire and rescue, we serve the people,” he said. “Either way, if they need us, we are there.”
The desire to serve others has marked Father Schrader’s entire life.
“That’s the way I was raised,” he said. “You help others.”
This influence – originally from his grandparents – has trickled through the generations. His family tree includes two state patrol officers and another firefighter among his close extended family.
Father Schrader asks the faithful to pray for their local first responders.
“Pray that they always stay safe,” he said. “Pray for the strength to support them.”
He added, “I would like to thank everyone in the rural communities, especially those who support their fire departments and law enforcement agencies.”