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Chaplain Care Plans

A few months ago I was talking with a fire chief and he started to tell me about his chaplain program. This part of the state has a number of chaplains, so I wanted to hear his impressions and his expectations.

Whenever there is a house fire, he told me, he wanted his chaplain right there with his or her Bible. That was all. I was a little taken aback by this. Did he see chaplains as primarily there to share the gospel? After a second or two, I suggested some other possibilities. I told him that my heart for his chaplains is that they would be there with blankets, medical attention, food, water, and shelter to get victims out of the elements or away from the crowds, and a list of phone numbers to the Red Cross, churches, and other groups that can help long-term. After that, if it seemed appropriate, they might end up praying with the displaced family.

Over the years the faith community has been a little at odds with the psychological community, and for good reasons. But in this case, I think people of faith have something to learn from the likes of Abraham Maslow. He stated that we must take care of physiological needs long before we can start things like spiritual needs. In the case of a house fire, we need to make sure the family is safe and cared for, and that their social contact needs are met before we address other things.

Chaplain, What Is Your Plan?

Chaplain, when you go on a 911 call, what is your care plan? Is this something you consider? First responders have a plan and work the plan on every call. They have to take in the scene and adapt, but they never just “wing it,” and neither should you.

When I go out on a 911 call as a chaplain I work through a care plan. This care plan varies depending on the type and nature of the call, but one of the first things I always do is make sure that everyone is safe. And if you are not part of the overall safety solution, then you are a hindrance and will most likely be removed from the scene and never be called back.

What do you bring to the scene? What is your strategy to take care of the first responders? How can you take care of the needs of the public? Are you meeting Maslow’s lower needs so you have earned the right to address the higher ones?

A ministry of presence can be powerful, but do you realize that giving someone a cup of cold water at the right time can be just as powerful? What do you have to offer? What kind of training do you have to help fulfill your care plan? Here are some ideas.

1. Be aware enough of fire/police operations to help and not get in the way.

Go to drills and trainings. Participate where you can. If you know where you belong and where you don't belong, your crews can pay more attention to the emergency and less to their chaplain.

2. Provide emergency scene support.

Do you know how to fill air bottles or take a blood pressure? How about the myriad of forms and reports that come with this job? Do you know how to get the basic information so our first responders don't have to? These are often areas where new volunteers begin.

3. Be trained in CPR and first aid.

There has been a number of times that I as chaplain have been drawn in to help do compressions. Again, saving the life is the priority. Then, if you can, address other needs.

4. Get training as an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician).

You may not actually use it on scene, but it is a comfort for your crews to know that you can help if needed. Also, it allows you to better understand the scene and what your crews are going through. If they know you “get it,” they will be more likely to respect and discuss things with you. And you’ll be a more effective liaison to others trying to understand what’s happening, if that’s appropriate.

5. Get training for MCI (Mass Casualty Incidents).

When your department trains in mass casualty incidents, join them. Figure out your role and where you can better help them.

6. Finally, get training in critical incident stress management and dealing with the public.

There are things that the firefighters or police officers do not want to do or do not have time to do. Often firefighters, especially, are men and women of action and less comfortable dealing with things that are ambiguous and emotional. Many first responders tell me that they are extremely thankful when I take over caring for the family or can be the one who gives the death notice.

A New Mindset

We as chaplains have to change the mindset that we are just “pastors” here to preach or pray, and become part of the overall response team. That can only happen if we act in a professional way, with something to give that fits into the overall incident response. Chaplaincy is very much a practical ministry. It requires boots on the ground and occasionally getting your hands dirty so we can deal with the spiritual issues. It means getting practical training and building a strategy and care plan that fits the needs of each department, and fits within the scope of the law as our positions as chaplains.

If you are ready to start your chaplain program or even take it to another level, we at the South Carolina Public Safety Chaplains Association are here to help. We are a support to all public safety agencies here in South Carolina. Our heart is to help you with your chaplain program and to help support your chaplains. Please feel free to contact us to start a dialog.

Chris Wade

Vice President

South Carolina Public Safety Chaplains Association

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