ED POLLOCK - FIRE DEPARTMENT CHAPLAIN
The following is a list of duties that are incorporated into our chaplaincy program. However, this list does not include all of the responsibilities that our chaplain undertakes.
Two important functions of the fire department chaplain are to help firefighters and their families in times of crisis and to help them with their spiritual needs. Of all the many duties the chaplain may entail, these are the principle responsibilities. The chaplain may use different ways to bring about spiritual truths and assistance to an individual family.
However, the most important ministry is to simply be available when called upon. Spiritual need is the greatest of all needs and the chaplain must be able to meet this need. It is also a hard area for many ministers to get a “handle on.” The spiritual witness is more often by action rather than by word. The example set by the chaplain in all phases of life has more bearing on the firefighter than “preaching” about it.
Another important part of these functions is to understand the personal religious needs of the firefighters and to call their own minister to assist as soon as possible, if the family so desires. The chaplain can then assist their minister to understand the functions and the resources available through the fire department. This particular area of the chaplaincy is given intense coverage at all chaplain seminars and conferences.
Assistance in Emergency Situations
Dealing with families when a disabling injury or a death occurs is a primary function of the chaplain. To provide the best service at this type of incident, the chaplain should respond as often as possible to all major fire situations. If an injury to a firefighter occurs, the chaplain should meet the firefighter at the hospital, quickly determine the extent of the injury from the hospital staff, and then notify the family in a manner that will not cause undue panic or grief. At the time of the initial call or contact with the family, a decision should be made as to whether the family will need transportation to the hospital. When the family arrives, the chaplain should have an accurate report concerning the firefighter’s condition.
At fire incidents, the chaplain, is not involved in the actual work of the emergency, but should be alert to the needs of the firefighters. The chaplain should be especially mindful that the type of people making emergency responses are easily capable of overexerting themselves to the point of exhaustion. Knowing this, the chaplain can make command officers aware of potentially dangerous situations that need immediate attention and/or medical attention.
At major fire incidents it may be necessary for the chaplain to assist in handling unruly or hysterical people. This becomes a needed function at rescues, extrications, situations that draw a sizeable crowd, nursing homes, or incidents where children are involved. The importance of keeping a cool, calm demeanor during these times, along with the ability to explain to the public what is actually taking place, is a service the chaplain can perform.
Comforting the bereaved and offering positive direction to the victim’s family are priorities at these types of incidents. The chaplain can explain the types of assistance available to victims through the Red Cross, the Ladies Auxiliary, or other community service and benevolent organizations. When these interventions are used at the scene of an emergency, the results are generally successful in not only aiding the victims, but also in keeping distraught citizens from interfering with the performance of emergency operations.
Liaison With Hospitals and Clinics
Our chaplain frequently visits the local hospital to build rapport with medical personnel. These visits help the chaplain to receive accurate and helpful reports from the hospital professionals who have confidence in the chaplain with whom they have become acquainted. This information aids the family of the firefighter in understanding what is taking place and to better understand the condition of their family member.
Explaining Insurance and Benefits
Our chaplain is knowledgeable of referrals to insurance and compensatory benefits available to the firefighters and to their families. These benefits come from many different sources such as insurance carried by the fire department,the state,and the federal government.
Conducting/Assisting at Funerals
Our chaplain can assist a family in funeral arrangements for both active and retired firefighters. They may even officiate at the service or assist the family minister. Assistance frequently is done in the form of organizing the details of the funeral service. Details to be considered include establishing an honor guard, preparing fire department apparatus for the funeral procession, organizing fire department members at the church or funeral home and at the cemetery, determining the location of the funeral, and arranging for procession escorts. The chaplain must develop a good working relationship with local funeral directors to help them understand the special rituals involved in a fire department funeral. Support and consolation for the firefighter’s family and children are responsibilities of the chaplain. The chaplain should always send condolences at the time of death of any member of a fire department and represent the department by offering any assistance needed.
The chaplain may be called upon to perform weddings for fire department personnel.
Wedding etiquette, premarital counseling, and the actual performance of the ceremony are areas of expertise that our chaplain takes special care to develop.
The daily pressures of the society in which we live has greatly contributed to the need for competent, caring counsel. It is not recommended that our chaplain should attempt to conduct counseling in all areas. The need for counseling in the areas of marriage, profession, family, substance abuse, delinquency, children, finances, critical incident stress management, and a host of other problem areas can quickly overwhelm an overzealous chaplain. Our chaplain is aware of the basics in these areas, and is knowledgeable of the type of help individuals may need. If our chaplain does not feel qualified, or for some reason is not able to counsel with a firefighter or family member, it is necessary to be able to direct them to a qualified counselor. Counselors may be available through members of an employee assistance program or other resources developed by the chaplain.
A great deal of comfort, spiritual aid, friendship, and solid supportive help can be given to the sick, distraught, and injured through personal contact. Regular visitation at home, in the work place, and in the hospital is an important function of our chaplain. It is an excellent time for our chaplain to represent the administration and let the firefighter know that the department is thinking about him or her and is concerned about his or her welfare.
The chaplain must be available seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. When the chaplain cannot be available, it should be made known and someone else made available to fill in. In order for the chaplain to be available at all times, it is necessary for the fire department headquarters or dispatcher to be able to contact him or her by telephone, pager, or radio at all times. It is advisable for transportation to be made available, either through the furnishing of a vehicle or through a transportation fund to assist in the cost of responding. The expense fund should include all unusual expenses incurred in administering the chaplain’s duties.
Attending Functions of the Fire Department
The chaplain may be called upon to represent the fire department at official functions or public meetings to give an invocation, dedicatory prayer, or benediction. Many times the chief and other active members of the department are tied up with important meetings or scheduled activities. It may fall to the chaplain to represent these people at social functions, homes, hospitals, before civic groups, or to other fire departments.
Our chaplain is one of the most vital positions of the fire department. The chaplain is next to the pulse of the department. It is a job that is demanding, confidential, trusting, and needful for the lives of firefighters and their families.