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Chaplains Part of the Response Team

The other day I was bringing a recruit back from the hospital and he asked me, "what does a chaplain do"? That was a very good question for someone who is just getting into the fire service. I went on to tell him that where he practiced the mechanics of firefighting it was my job to deal with the humanity of firefighting. He dealt with extinguishing the flames, ripping apart cars, and dealing with hazmat while my job was dealing with exhausted firefighters (physically/emotionally), irate public/family, grief and loss. I went on to tell him that public safety is more than dealing with the mechanics these days, it's about dealing with the humanity of the situation.

This year I have seen the extremes on how public safety chaplains have been utilized. On one hand I saw where many chaplains were sent home when COVID broke out, essentially giving the chaplain the option of reaching out virtually or not at all. And on the other side I have seen chaplains being utilized in the wildfires that have plagued the West, and hurricanes that have ravaged the South. The chaplains working right along with other first responders.

Welcome to the days of the professional chaplain. Gone are the days of the banquet chaplain, or the chaplain that comes by and says hello once a month. Gone is the chaplain that thinks he/she is only there for religious work, like winning the department for Christ. And yes, I have run across all of those.

Chief, what is the status of your chaplain? If your chaplain is not willing to be part of the response team and be a professional chaplain, it's time to get yourself a new chaplain. Do you have chaplain service that can be paged 24/7? Do they have the proper uniform and PPE? Are they trained to do the job they are assigned to do? Are your officers and firefighter trained to utilize them for their particular skills? Or Chief, do you treat your chaplain as a piece of stained glass, not allowing them anywhere near harm? Do you expect your chaplain to be near enough to the situation to actually be of some benefit? There is a reason why chaplains are included in the Public Safety Officers Death Benefit ( And no, it is not because we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's because we as chaplains can face danger in doing our job. We are part of the response agency. Your chaplains should be expected to be as close to the action as possible.

Some would say that the shepherd should smell like the sheep. Not sure if I like that, but there is some truth to it. Does your chaplain know your people by name? Do they know what the heck our first responders are doing when they are on scene? Do they have an actual role on major events, such as structure fires or mass causality events or cardiac arrests? If not, then maybe it's time to rethink both the role and capabilities of your chaplain.

Chaplain Chris M. Wade


South Carolina Public Safety Chaplains Association

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