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Column: When trauma hits, who ya gonna call? It’s not the Ghostbusters.

By Dan Kontos

When our fellow citizens find themselves having one of the worst days of their lives, who do they turn to?

It usually starts with a call to 911, and the talented and dedicated members of the Sheriff’s Office Communications Center jump into action, dispatching law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services, and others to come to their aid.

I have often told you about the respect I have for these emergency responders, but who do they call when they need help? Well, they can call for backup, a second alarm, or perhaps a MedEvac helicopter. But when it takes a special touch that they may not have, now who do they call?

Well, you call the God Squad.

Alright, alright, that’s not what they call themselves – that’s my whimsical term (sorry, I couldn’t resist). They are the Emergency Services Chaplains.

For that unique gift, emergency services across the county are served by a small but dedicated group of clergy, who stand ready 24/7 to help where they can. These unpaid specialists not only tend to their own congregations, but happily take on the challenge of tending to others in crisis at a moment’s notice.

You may even know some of these devoted men and women, like Pastor David Ficken of Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Plover, Pastor Robert Terrell of Stevens Point’s Tapestry Church, Pastor Doug Schneder of Plover’s Woodlands Church, Pastor Lea Woehr-Grande of Good Shepard Lutheran Church in Plover, and others.

These clerics bring unique skills that are often more polished than the seemingly rough-and-tumble responder community may possess. Chaplains help with comforting and supporting victims, with a non-judging and confidential listening ear. They provide an air of concern, calm, and reassurance that the chaos of the moment may try to destroy.

And all too often, they are there to help and comfort during a tragic death notification.

Their purpose is not to proselytize or preach. Instead, they reassure, guide, and support the public, helping in ways that allow first responders to better concentrate on other duties. They are a true force multiplier. 

But their skills are not reserved for citizens at large. Chaplains also are available to serve the emergency responders as well. Not only can they help department members in the event of an injury or death, but they’re also available to personnel for all sorts of personal or professional counseling, as well as critical incident stress debriefings.

They lend an ear for those who need to talk about something that is bothering them, such as physical or emotional stress, with a goal to aid, comfort, and help responders and their families.

Pastor David Ficken, more commonly known by local responders as Chaplain Dave, said that “it’s a blessing that the departments are open to having a chaplain.”

He explained that the cumulative effect of trauma can be oppressive, but the prevailing attitude in the emergency services community used to be “suck it up, buttercup.” Today, chaplains help to normalize the thought that others are feeling the same way, and these specialists can help with that, or refer them to any needed counseling.

Portage Co. Chaplain David Ficken even played the part of a victim during a 2018 Rescue Task Force training exercise. Ficken said playing various roles of traumatic situations during RTF not only communicated to police/fire/EMS that he was a team player, but it also helped him better respond to emergency responders’ needs. (Metro Wire photo)

Chaplains are not just on-call volunteers that are requested once in a while; they are truly members of the departments and responder community. It’s not unusual to see chaplains at promotion ceremonies, weddings, retirement celebrations, funerals, and occasionally visiting departments just to check in.

They often just shoot the breeze with department members in their dedicated office. They also attend training sessions to learn more about the people they serve, and even played the role of “bad guys” at a recent rescue task force training. How ironic is that?

They are also regulars at other community events, like the yearly Fill the Boot campaign, cookouts or an occasional firehouse meal, as well as attending the annual Guns N’ Hoses charity softball game (shoutout to the victorious “Guns” team this year, by the way). I wonder who the chaplains were rooting for? Just curious.

Recently after the death of one local responder, not only were the chaplains available to the family through the funeral, but constantly checked up on the household afterwards, even offering to take the children fishing just to spend some time with them.

“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:16

Chaplains receive specialized training and hold certifications from organizations such as the International Conference of Police Chaplains, International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, and others. This is all on top of their own “regular” duties back at their home houses of worship.

When asked how chaplains find the time to be both a full-time pastor, and an on-call chaplain simultaneously, Chaplain Dave simply explains that, “He always makes it work out. God makes it work out.” No other explanation was needed. It really is that simple for these men and women of faith. 

Of course, the chaplains cover for each other as they rotate their on-call status. If the primary cannot be reached or is busy, the others jump in. Chaplain Dave explained that it can be months without a call, and then this last May he received three call-outs. You just never know when someone will benefit from their services.

One police supervisor said to me when I asked about the chaplain program, “What can I say? They’re great, and there aren’t enough of them.” Local responders and the community as a whole have come to rely on this dedicated group. Perhaps there are others who are called to serve as well.

I just thought you would like to know about this extraordinary group.

So, with that, let’s meet in the opinion section to talk about all of it, boldly, honestly, and with a healthy respect and appreciation for each other. What can you do to serve your community? Until next time, remember that God loves you, and so do I.