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Chaplain Training Academy Prepares For Support And Safety

KUOW Photo/Patricia Murphy

During an emergency, first responders are trained to work quickly to save lives. They’re deliberate and methodical.

People in emotional distress after a fire or accident need someone with different training. For them an emergency department may send a chaplain. The Police and Fire Chaplain's Training Academy in Seattle just graduated a new crop of chaplains for emergency departments around the country.

Jill Eider calls the training her Disneyland. The Puyallup resident plans to chaplain for Central Pierce Fire and Rescue.

“I’ve waited to do this until my son got older because I didn’t want to get a call in the middle of the night," Eider said. "He’s 18 next month, and he’s actually glad. He’s ready to have me go."

Pastor Joel Ingebritson is one of three on-call chaplains for Seattle Fire Department. “Chaplaincy is what we call a ministry of presence," Ingebritson said. "We're there to help people take the next steps."

In the beginning, Ingebritson said the immediate needs for survivors can be simple. “Helping people find a neighbor who will let them come in, have a seat, keep warm, keep out of the rain." Some of the most difficult calls are when a family member or loved one has died.

Chaplains can be there to listen, to pray or just stand by. But staying safe while at the scene of an emergency is important. As part of their 60-hour certification training, the chaplains are following Seattle firefighters as they battle a fake blaze at the city’s joint training facility in South Seattle.

About two dozen chaplains-in-training wear yellow hard hats. Half of them disappear into the building with fire crews carrying hoses. Water spews out the windows as firefighters show them how they do their part of the job. The other trainees stay behind at an incident command post. At a real fire, that’s where they’d check in and stay until they can be helpful.

Chaplains take their cues from family members. Sometimes just listening to them can help.

Jill Eider says a chaplain helped her once after a family member’s traumatic death. He helped her cope. He also helped her realize chaplaincy was something she wanted to do. 

“Biblically, God says that he doesn’t allow anything that we’ve gone through to go to waste," Eider said. "I’ve never understood how the things that I’ve gone through could be beneficial. But even if I could just sit with somebody and not say a word and make any kind of a difference or comfort to them, that’s a big deal to me."

For people dealing with trauma like the sudden death of a family member or pet, just having someone supportive nearby to listen can have a profound impact on how they navigate their new reality.