CCOLUMBIA — For 23 years, Msgr. Joseph R. Roth has served as the chaplain for the South Carolina Firefighters’ Association, ministering to members and their families around the state. In gratitude for his work, he was inducted, along with three other members, to the association’s Hall of Fame at a banquet held at the Metropolitan Convention Center on April 10.
The association is a statewide organization that provides services, benefits and information for firefighters and their families. The group’s regular activities include seminars and training opportunities and coordinating the Firefighters’ Relief Fund.
Msgr. Roth is the first Catholic priest to serve as chaplain for the group, which has had only three in its 102-year history.
“When I was asked to be up there, I thought they wanted an extra prayer,” Msgr. Roth said in a phone interview with The Miscellany. “I was shocked when they gave me the award. Never in my wildest dreams did I think about something like this. It was a total surprise.”
Jim Bowie, executive director of the association, praised Msgr. Roth’s dedication to the spiritual well-being of its members.
“He’s just very well respected in our association,” Bowie said. “He’s one of the kindest, gentlest men you’d ever want to meet.”
Bowie noted that the association has 80 to 90 members pass away each year, and Msgr. Roth personally writes letters to each of the families. The group currently has about 16,000 members, consisting of both active and retired firefighters.
He said Msgr. Roth also is working to form a team that would travel and work with the families and co-workers of South Carolina firefighters who die in the line of duty.
Candidates for the Hall of Fame are nominated by individual members and then evaluated by the state association’s Member Benefits Committee.
Msgr. Roth said he first got involved with firefighting in 1983 when he served as a priest on Sullivans Island. When he learned there was a shortage of volunteer firefighters, he offered to join because he was on the island during the day while others often were at work. He took courses at the South Carolina Fire Academy to become certified as a state firefighter and then a fire officer.
Over the years, Msgr. Roth served as chaplains for fire departments in Sullivans Island, Isle of Palms, Aiken, Myrtle Beach and the city of Charleston. He also serves as chaplain emeritus for the South Carolina State Fire Chiefs’ Association and the State Fire Instructors Association.
“Being a chaplain keeps me busy, and as a Catholic I’m sort of alone out there because we just don’t have a large Catholic clergy presence in the fire community,” he said. “There are a lot of firefighters who are Catholic.”