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Archives Serving on scene with emergency responders

Sept. 25, 2019

By Deacon Kevin MastellonEmergency Chaplains
Contributing writer

It is a scene you have witnessed or viewed from afar. Perhaps it is a fire that claims property and lives. Or it is an automobile accident that results in lives lost. Or an incident in which an officer dies in the line of duty. The first responders: the police, the emergency medical services, the volunteer firemen and fire police all have important but often troubling tasks to perform. They are called upon to bring calm to chaos; to save lives even in challenging circumstances; to assess the damage and, too often, to make notifications of death.

Father Christopher C. Carrara says, “first responders develop protection. Farmers develop calloused hands to enable them to touch things that are hot or pointy and not get hurt. Officers become calloused too, not in a negative way, to defend against tragic or gruesome situations. They either learn it (develop protection) or suffer greatly from it. We know from psychological studies that those types of critical incidents multiply and become cumulative. So, one can suffer from stress by being exposed over-and-over again. After “X” number of cases, individuals might hit overload.”

The department chaplain is available to help the officers through those troubles. Father Carrara and Father Shane M. Lynch are appointed chaplains for various police, fire and emergency services departments in the western end of the diocese. Father Lynch, who is pastor of parishes in Gouverneur, Edwards and Star Lake, is also a chaplain in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Father Carrara is pastor in Morristown, Hammond and Rossie. He is also the Diocesan Vicar for Clergy, as well as Director of Vocations and Director of Seminarians.

The diocese has chaplains in a variety of settings. Some are employed, others volunteer. Chaplains are generally attached to a secular institution such as a hospital, prison, military unit, school, labor union, business, police department, fire department, university or fraternal organization They can be a cleric, consecrated religious, a lay representative of a religious tradition or, in some cases, a lay member of the organization,

Father Lynch’s interest in law enforcement started when he was young. He took a leave of absence from seminary studies and had received an invitation to the police academy when he chose to return to his formation as a priest. But his interest never waned. A year after ordination to the priesthood, while serving in Malone, he was invited to become chaplain to the Malone Police Department and Franklin County Sheriff’s Department.
It was the fire service that drew Father Carrara’s attention. He was a junior fireman in the Selden New York Fire Department on Long Island and eventually became a lieutenant in the department and an Emergency Medical Technician. He is a member of the Morristown Fire Department and serves on one of the department’s ambulance crews.

Sheriff James Lafferty asked Father Carrara to become the first chaplain of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department in 1994. Fathers Carrara and Lynch now both serve as chaplains in the department.
The two priests cite presence as the hallmark of successful chaplaincy.

“Nobody is going to see the chaplain as a resource unless they know who they are. I mean that’s first and foremost,” Father Lynch said. “They are not going to come to someone they don’t know and someone who has not shown them that they care and are there for the right reasons.”

Early in their chaplaincy ministries, both priests participated in “ride-along” tours with officers. During those rides, the chaplains learned what to do, and not to do, during police investigations while simultaneously building rapport with the officers.

“Immediately upon arriving at a scene, I get briefed by the officers in charge,” Father Carrara said.
Depending on the circumstances, Father Carrara said, he is there to pray over the victim and support the victim’s family. He’s also there to be a resource for the first responders. “I go to every first responder who is there. My style is to introduce myself to everyone. It’s called ‘flight deck ministry.’ In other words, be present to the people where the planes land.”

Ultimately, the priests agreed, their presence to victims, families and to the men and women on the line as first responders will earn the respect and support of the uniformed personnel.

“The law enforcement group is very tight knit. They are very protective, cautious,” Father Carrara said. “Once they get to know the chaplains and trust them, they are seen as a chaplain. Eventually, you have to be careful because officers will trust chaplains enough to let them go anywhere on a scene, but that is not always the best idea.”

As chaplains to the departments they officiate at weddings, baptisms and funerals for many of the personnel they now consider friends. If necessary, they are also ready to counsel those who are approaching that “overload.”

“A rule of the chaplain and others who respond to critical incidents is to alleviate, mitigate the adverse effects of those incidents so people can continue their work in a healthy way,” Father Lynch said.

Father Carrara believes he and Father Lynch provide a valuable service to the first responders. “When police or firemen retire, they carry the burden of service with them,” Father Carrara said. “A chaplain may be able to mitigate the effects by just talking with them.”

Editor’s note: Deacon Ronnie Gingerich, Lowville, is also a chaplain. He serves first responders in Lewis County. Deacon John Drollette is retired from the Plattsburgh Police Department. He is not a department chaplain but has been available as a resource to first responders in need.

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