Eight years after retiring, a 31-year veteran of the Arlington Fire Department is back, helping heal and support firefighters as the department's first chaplain in a decade.
Capt. Don Coker didn't have much planned for life after firefighting when he retired.
"The only thing I knew that I was going to be able to do, I was going to be able to go to church every Sunday because I didn't have to be at the fire station every third week," he said.
Coker does not have experience as a pastor, but his experience as a firefighter could prove most useful as a chaplain, he said.
"I can relate," he said. "I can have empathy of how the firefighter is thinking."
Arlington Fire Lt. Darryl Whitfield said firefighters often turn to fellow firefighters when trying to deal with stress and emotion.
"A lot of times, firefighters don't want to go home and talk to their families," he said. "They may tell them the type of calls and things that they go on, but they don't want to explain the details, the graphics."
While firefighters are trained, prepared and equipped better than ever before, Coker said lasting emotional stress is always just one call away.
"The ones that really get to them over a period of time are the really abnormal ones, when something comes up that they really have no control over," he said.
Coker said it was normal during his three decades as a firefighter to be tapped by AFD to provide emotional or spiritual support to victims of fires because he was known to be the man of faith.
"I don't know if they did that because I was labeled 'the man' or because I was the first one they turned around and looked at," Coker joked.