Written by Lydia D’Ross, Ordained Minister and Outreach Chaplain for RENEWAL at Brookhaven Hospital
Trauma affects us all, especially those in the line of duty as first responders. First responders are public entities who serve and protect citizens. They’re our local enforcement agencies, fire department, medical emergency services and collaborative enforcing law agencies, that serve constituents regardless of ethnicity, religion or cultural dynamics.
Public community leaders like myself, who assist victims from various situations are often forgotten that we too, are affected by these unavoidable events.
I remember how I was affected as a first responder for the Glen Cover Ambulance Corp in1990, and was called into the line duty for the Avianca Flight 52 in Cove Neck, NY. I was already an experienced first line responder in many disasters and crisis situations. But this particular incident, not only impacted me, but hundreds of first line responders. The result of the crash was due to poor communication between the tower and airplane crew, low fuel and being in a holding pattern in the air for longer than the anticipated wait time.
We did not see any chaplains as first line duty responders. Many were praying for those that did survive -that they make it to the nearest triage hospital, who were already at full capacity. This is something you usually see in the movies. We stood shoulder to shoulder. We kept calm and worked through our moments of shock. Our adrenalin was pumping and we just kept moving and moving for hours. We worked to place dead bodies in one location and comforting children whose parents were sent at another location due to the type of injury received.
After the disaster, many first line responders had debriefing opportunities. But others, like myself were still engaged in the aftermath and recovery efforts.
This is when we realized the importance of having faith involved in times like these. Rev Tim Sherman of In Pursuit Ministries for Law Enforcement says “Of all professional groups in America, Law Enforcement Officers hold the highest rates of suicide, divorce, addictive behavior, and stress-related diseases.” These statistics are growing in numbers, especially within the past year.
We now have various services offered to law enforcement agencies like counseling to process the vicarious trauma experienced by them during tragic events, marriage counseling, home chaplain services, funeral coordination and much more.
We must remember as first line chaplains, to take care of ourselves first. We are peacemakers, but we are also human.