Emergency services chaplaincy
Emergency services chaplaincy had its beginning in 1977-78 through the initiative of the Victorian Council of Churches in which Rev. John Mills played a critical role. The VCC was asked to chair the counselling sub-committee of the Victorian Government’s Displan Welfare Plan which evolved to become the Personal Services and Counselling sub-committee, and after the 1983 Victorian bushfires it was renamed as the Community Recovery Committee. The Victorian Council of Churches is identified as a provider of personal support, psychological first aid and emotional first aid within the State Emergency Recovery Plan (SERP). Its values are compassion, care, community, dignity and hope, and its work is couched very much in terms of spiritual and psychological first aid.
It has subsequently played an important supportive role in dealing with numerous State disasters and many local emergencies including the Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1983, the Gippsland floods, the North-East Victoria floods in 1993, Mildura’s Cardross incident in 2006, the Kerang train crash in 2007, the Burnley Tunnel incident and the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009 and the recent floods in 2010/2011 and 2016. In the Bourke Street Mall incident on 20th January 2017, Victorian Council of Churches Emergencies Ministry Chaplains and Personal Support Workers were on site in the mall from 20th to the 31st January which terminated with the removal of the floral tributes. In this huge, unheralded effort, 3,321 persons were supported with the VCC deploying 162 individual personnel and they conducted 311 days of volunteer service (www.vccem.org.au) over the 12-day period.
Emotional Spiritual Care can include,
- psychological first aid,
- personal support
- intentional creation of safe and calm spaces to aid in the emotional and spiritual processing of the event,
- listening to affected people’s story
- grief and loss support
- religious rituals on request
- memorial services, and
- funeral services
Acting under the auspices of the Victorian Council of Churches, there are now over 1,600 trained volunteers, and its website (www.vccem.org.au) is very informative, including an incident activity update. Membership is open to persons of faith or no faith though typically it is provided by a person commissioned or otherwise selected by a faith group, including multifaith groups. To obtain registration as an emergency services volunteer under the VCC auspices, as well as paying $80, it is necessary to be over 18, to undergo safety checks and be supported by referee reports. There is a two-step training process comprised of a self-paced learning package and a face-to-face training day. For 2017, 20 training days will be held, including 20 outside Melbourne.
Across the world, interfaith emergency services are developing, not least in New York where the New York Disaster Interfaith Services provides planning, training, response, recovery and advocacy services. It trains disaster chaplains and spiritual care workers to recognise and respond appropriately to the physiological, psychological and social effects of trauma on individuals and communities, along with the spiritual impact of trauma, and how healing and resilience can be promoted in the aftermath of a disaster.
New York Disaster Interfaith Services distinguishes disaster chaplains from lay spiritual care workers. For the former, it provides nationally a two-day training workshop with four modules. These modules provide information on the various emotional and spiritual phases during the life cycle of a disaster, frameworks for developing appropriate interventions such as PCAID (Presence, Connect, Assessment, Intervention, Develop Plan of Care), and practice in providing spiritual and emotional care in various disaster scenarios. The mental health element focuses on the phases of psychological reaction to disaster and their impact on behaviours, thoughts and feelings, the elements of psychological first aid and recognition of indicators where referral to professional mental health care may be appropriate. The last module explores self-care for care providers, practices that minimize compassion fatigue (‘the cost of caring’) and other stress sources and, lastly, strategies to promote recovery and resilience in self, effected individuals and neighbourhood, suburban and rural communities (www.nydis.org).
Fire and ambulance chaplaincy:
The website of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade contained no reference to chaplains or chaplaincy and there is a similar situation with Ambulance Victoria. However, the Country Fire Authority has a part-time chaplain in every district or region who provides pastoral care to CFA members and their families. Firefighters have a five-stanza prayer used at firefighter funerals and at the annual commemoration at the Fiskville Memorial Wall erected after the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires in which many firefighters perished. The first stanza reads:
When I am called to duty, God,
Wherever flames may rage
Grant us the strength to save lives,
Whatever be their age.
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