‘There is simply no wrong reason to seek support’
A unique chaplaincy partnership reveals the similar storms police and EMS professionals weather
“Ah. I smiled. I’m not really here to keep you from freaking out. I’m here to be with you while you freak out or grieve or laugh or suffer or sing. It is a ministry of presence. It is showing up with a loving heart.” — Chaplain Kate Braestrup, “Here if you need me”
Whether I’m working at a hospital, a mental health clinic or an ambulance base, frequently, within a few minutes of introducing myself and my role, I get the unsurprising follow-up question: What exactly is a chaplain?
“Good question,” I almost always respond, while taking a breath to try to transition smoothly into an uncomplicated and brief explanation. The reality is, however, that there are a myriad of ways to describe the work that my colleagues and I are privileged to do. My personal favorite goes to the Latin root (cappella) of the Latin word for chaplain (cappellani). Cappella translates as “cape.” “What then does a ‘cape’ have to do with chaplaincy,” you might naturally be wondering.
The story goes that once upon a time, St. Martin encountered a beggar in the rain in need of protection from the elements. St. Martin had before him three options:
- Give the man his cape (or cloak) – in which case he would simply shift the presenting problem from the beggar onto himself
- Keep his cape – in which case the man would continue in need
- Tear his cape in half and share it with the man.
Supposedly, St. Martin chose option three, providing half of his cape to the man in need of protection while keeping half for himself.
From there derived the idea of chaplains being those who share support and coverage amidst the storms of life. That is indeed the role of my colleagues and myself within Allina Health Emergency Medical Service, where we are employed to provide employee support. While we cannot take the “storms” away, we can provide emotional, mental, spiritual and social accompaniment. We can provide resources. We can share coverage.
I have learned that in the world of EMS, the “storms” can range from critical calls to cumulated stress, moral injury to personal medical crises, psychological distress to home life struggles. There is simply no wrong reason to seek support from one of us engaged in the meaningful work of being here with the sole purpose of offering care.
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Contracting for chaplaincy
Recently, the chaplain at the Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport Police Department announced his retirement. Command staff at the APD were then faced with the task of exploring who would best serve their department in his absence. It occurred to someone that as our agency already provides ambulance services to the airport and our educators already work with their officers to provide first responder training, contracting with us for chaplaincy coverage was a natural fit.
Administrative Sergeant Keith Boser, shared his thoughts on this decision and new partnership:
“MSP Airport police is fortunate to have a great working relationship with our ambulance service, whether it’s a 911 response or training, it’s a relationship that has worked well for many years. So, when APD learned that they also had chaplains, we saw an opportunity to have them step in and replace our retiring chaplain. Since bringing them into our department the response from officers has been very positive. Giving the officers a neutral support option is crucial to helping them maintain their overall wellbeing. We couldn’t be happier with our chaplains and look forward to incorporating them even more into our department.”
Sgt. Boser has 31 years of law enforcement experience between his work with a city agency, tribal agency and county sheriff’s department, as a police chief, and now in his current capacity as an administrative sergeant with the APD.
Parallel and unique challenges between police and EMS providers
We are greatly appreciating the opportunity to support our APD.
As is expected, thus far the storms within the police department seem to be both similar and different to those in EMS. Some storms are naturally just part of being human – grief, sickness, financial concerns, parenting struggles, relationship issues, loss of meaning, and a myriad of other situations in which we find ourselves experiencing a sense of confusion, defeat or loneliness, are potential aspects of this human journey no matter what who we are or what our professional context is.
Additionally, the struggles of shift work, understaffing and organizational or leadership stressors are a common part of the present-day reality of most first responders, no matter the specifics of their individual titles.
That aside, the type of calls, role responsibilities, community pressures and expectations carry noticeable variances between police and EMS. Additionally, one’s individual experience, history and subjective reality always informs what one personally perceives or experiences to be a “storm” or not.
No matter the storm or the degree of its magnitude, whether at the airport, an ambulance base or communication center, my colleagues and I are honored to offer whatever support and coverage we can to those we serve. While we can’t eliminate the downpour, we are available to be with others as it rains; or as Chaplain Kate Braestrup reminds us, we are here to “be with you while you freak out or grieve or laugh or suffer or sing”. And, hopefully, we can find our way through the haze and figure out how to weather it together.