I just returned from a delightful couple of days in Keystone, Colorado where I met with chaplains of fire departments from various counties in the Denver area (though Dan and Jim drove over 300 miles from near the Wyoming border to attend). These are men of solid character, great honor and unswerving dedication to their calling. When I asked “Why do you do what you do?” They all resonated with one man’s answer: “I cannot not do it.”
What do they do? They are often dispatched to death scenes to deal with those grieving. Sometimes they provide stress intervention sessions to emergency responders following an unusually stressful incident. Sometimes they provide counseling to firefighters for professional debriefing and for personal marriage counseling.
The focus of our meeting was on helping folks grieve their losses following a trauma. We readily agreed on the importance of a trauma victim telling their story, but what if they’re so stunned they can’t talk? So we talked about how to help a person talk.
I spent some time complaining about the use of “stages” of grief, and was happy to be able to share the results of the Yale study that I have written about in a previous blog post. This view graphically shows how several emotions can be going on at the same time as well as showing a realistic time frame for various elements of the grieving process.
We explored important areas of self care. Ken Rice, the Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue Chaplain (pictured at right), who organized the whole training session shared the poignant phrase of “compassion fatigue.” This is so much more elegant the “burnout” and describes what’s happening so clearly. I found a self-test for compassion fatigue that might be helpful to operationalize these subjective feelings.
Future discussions? Several, like “How does a warrior include his wife in his personal struggles when his noble intentions are to protect her from the dangers of his job? Or like “How does a guy who is more concerned about other people’s needs recognize his own personal needs and receive support from others?” Or like “What are some techniques for helping firefighters admit to their softer side and get real with their struggles?” Or like “How are the best ways to deal with the field-marshal type colleagues who don’t believe in God and/or don’t think people fire fighters should be comforted?” I’d love to see the outcomes of those discussions.
Ken and Melissa Rice hosted me in their home for two nights and showed me all around this beautiful Summit County. He’s one of those rare guys who is highly respected by everyone in the community and whose private life is consistent with his public life. He’s the real deal. I guess we solved most of world’s problems in his living room and on our short hikes. By the way, if you ever want to buy a home in that area, Melissa is the realtor to call. She’s awesome. Check out her web site.
All in all, I left with the strong sense of importance of the Christian virtues of grace that are so often marginalized in our male culture. For those who might not see the significance of what these chaplains do, I suggest you reflect on the following statements from Paul and Jesus:
“. . . encourage the time, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
“. . . let each of you regard one another as more important that himself” (Philippians 2:3)
“Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
These chaplains exemplify these Christian virtues. Their example motivates me to serve others with even more devotion. May the Lord protect them and bless them.