Chaplains, first responders learn to attend to emotional needs after crises

Everard Rutledge, participant, consoles Spike Coleman, volunteer chaplain, playing the part of a grieving parent as others watch the role-playing session during a Pastoral Crisis Intervention workshop Thursday sponsored by Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy at the North Charleston City Hall.

Bandaging a wound isn’t like bandaging a heart.

A wound that’s properly cared for can take weeks, maybe months to heal. But the heart, after a crisis like the Emanuel AME Church shooting — that takes a different kind of care.

Helping those in emotional need is what crisis chaplains specialize in, and it doesn’t come without a level of training that is constantly evolving. As more tragedy strikes across the nation, the need for psychological attention to victims grows.

That was evident last week as nearly 40 chaplains and first responders filled an annual training session taught by Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy.

“I think people realize that things have changed and we can’t not have chaplains,” said Rich Robinson, deputy senior chaplain. “I think there was a time when we could have put our heads in the sand and say, ‘Well, bad things happen,’ but not anymore.”

He said that as media attention to crises becomes more prevalent, people have more of an understanding of how deeply those affected hurt.

A number of people who took the three-day class were already public safety chaplains, and others were there to hone their skills. Some were new to the field and took on learning new techniques. This year, the class was also opened to first responders, many of whom are learning to support their peers during the response and aftermath of a crisis incident.

Topics covered included stress management, crisis, suicide and religious intervention, along with national incident management, crisis reaction and advocacy.

The class is sponsored by the Saul Alexander Foundation.

North Charleston Fire Department engineer Tim Hiott said he felt a calling to become a chaplain and offer support to his fellow firefighters and first responders.

“This is a need for our department,” he said. “The scenes that become all too normal to us are never normal.”

Robinson said planning for the annual class was a little different this year given the events that the chaplains responded to over the past year.

“It’s always someone else’s neighborhood, but it’s becoming more prominent in our neighborhood, Robinson said. “People know it’s not a question of if anymore; it’s a question of when.”

Bill Youngblood, another chaplain and instructor with Coastal Crises Chaplaincy, said the crises they have responded to have made them stronger. Their teachings include what they’ve learned from making mistakes along the way.

Zach Masdon drove from Moore in the Upstate to attend the training. He is a volunteer firefighter and chaplain at the Poplar Springs Fire Department and a family pastor at the Poplar Springs Baptist Church.

“You already have the heart to help people in public service,” he said. “These classes equip you with resources to be able to help people properly.”

Reach Melissa Boughton at 843-937-5594 or at