Chaplain retires after 20 years of giving comfort

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — For 20 years, Matthew Lambert prayed he would not get the call.

It is not that the volunteer fire district chaplain didn’t want to help or minded getting up in the middle of the night. He just didn’t want people to suffer.

Inevitably, the calls would come and Lambert would go to offer his support to those who lost their homes or perhaps a loved one.

It was a meaningful calling. He considered the opportunity to help a gift from God.

“I think it’s the connection with families in distress,” Lambert said. “Many times they don’t know what to do. You come there and get to be like a family member.”

Lambert has stepped down as a fire district chaplain. He remains a pastor for the Bethel Chapel in Mountlake Terrace. He’s been there for more than 30 years.

In 1992, he began to volunteer as a chaplain for the Mountlake Terrace Fire Department. He moved over to Snohomish County Fire District 1 when Mountlake Terrace merged. In doing so, he became part of a sprawling district that stretches from the Snohomish-King county line to south of Everett and serves roughly 200,000 people.

Lambert is thankful for technological advances, such as a GPS system that helps him find his way to door steps in neighborhoods he does not know.

“It really took a lot of the stress out of it,” he said.

Fire District 1 Assistant Chief Brad Reading figures he has been on hundreds of calls with Lambert over the years. They met at the Mountlake Terrace department when Lambert signed up. A year ago, Lambert performed the wedding ceremony when Reading remarried.

“We are definitely going to miss him,” Reading said. “He truly cares about people, and he has a great sense of humor. You can talk to him about anything.”

With church and family obligations, Lambert, 69, thought about stepping down many times over the years. The support of his wife, Su, kept him going.

“I am a pastor, but often my wife was just as involved,” he said. “We always just prayed and asked for God’s guidance.”

Fires were just a part of the calls Lambert took. More common were medical emergencies.

Some people were believers; some were not.

Lambert said he would assess and respect each situation as he helped families through their grief.

“You only do what they request,” he said.

For those who were receptive, he would sing to soothe them.

Reading said the role of chaplains is invaluable whether it is through prayer or practical advice.

“The good part is when the chaplains get there, they can take care of the families for us so we can do our job,” Reading said. “They usually stay involved well after we leave. They really help the fire personnel on the scene.”

Lambert could recall many cases over the years. Yet no two calls were exactly the same and the opportunity to serve was rewarding, he said.

“Every case is different,” he said. “Once you help them through the grief and the process and follow up, they are so grateful.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446,

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