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Training to provide emotional first aid

The first time Wade Lamirande had to deliver a death notification to a family, he had been on the police force for less than a year and had "zero experience" other than what he'd been told when he was going to school for law enforcement.

Panel discussion
Col. Mindy Albright, a trainer for the International Fellowship of Chaplains, explains to a group of 40 students engaged in a week-long IFOC training, how they can begin to work with and establish trust with law enforcement and emergency response organizations after they are certified chaplains. Police and fire chiefs from around the county were part of a panel discussion during the Wednesday morning training session, including Cloquet Chief Wade Lamirande and Moose Lake Chief Bryce Bogenholm (pictured)....

The first time Wade Lamirande had to deliver a death notification to a family, he had been on the police force for less than a year and had "zero experience" other than what he'd been told when he was going to school for law enforcement.

The young man who had died in the car accident was in his early 20s, the Cloquet Police Chief told a room full of people engaged in a chaplain training program Wednesday morning.

"His partner was also in her early 20s," Lamirande said, describing how he knocked on the door in the wee hours of the morning and was let in to a living room with three children sleeping on the floor after what appeared to be a movie night. "The kids were wearing the same pajamas my kids had at home. It made it so real, that it could so easily have been me in that accident."

Although he believes he said the "correct" things to the young woman, Lamirande said she ran out the door screaming, into the darkness outside and made no attempt to come back, leaving him in the home with the kids. Soon enough, he discovered she'd gone to the other side of the duplex where more family members lived. They had incorrectly understood from her panicked retelling that the young man had been shot by the police.

"Suddenly they pour out of the door, there's yelling, two of them are hitting each other and I'm the only police officer there so I have to call for backup," Lamirande said. "I went back and told my chief, 'Please, never send me to another death notification alone.'"

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Shortly thereafter, the future police chief started putting together a chaplaincy program, so there would be people trained to go with law enforcement to assist with death notifications, among other things.

"I met nothing but resistance," he said. "The senior officers didn't see the value."

Things have changed since Lamirande began his law enforcement career, in Cloquet, Carlton County and beyond. Every one of the 10 law enforcement and emergency services workers on the Wednesday morning panel told the chaplain trainees that the services they could offer are needed.

A total of 40 people signed up for the week-long chaplain training program held at the Carlton County Transportation Building this week, the first of its kind to be offered in the state of Minnesota. Offered by the International Fellowship of Chaplains (IFOC), the program trains its students to be "chaplains" who work in the community to assist people in crisis, emergency service workers, and others in need of counseling, education and other support services. Although Christian religious beliefs and a commitment to service are at the core of the IFOC, chaplains are not considered ministers. According to the IFOC founder, David Vorce, they are "ministers in the workplace" and "mud and blood Marines."

Some chaplains, such as Ernie Strandberg, work with law enforcement or in jail settings. They assist victims of crimes; they can also provide counseling or "debriefing" to police, firefighters, EMTs and others who can come face-to-face with dangerous, heart wrenching and/or other stressful situations. Others go into schools or work with victims of disaster.

State Patrol Lt. Quint Stainbrook said having Chaplain Strandberg available has helped a lot, particularly because he has known Strandberg for some time and the two of them are comfortable together.

"That makes a difference," he said. "When we go to a house to tell someone probably the worst news they've ever heard ... help in that is greatly appreciated. I thank you folks for the time you've given us and for helping us do our jobs."

Of the 40 people who signed up and paid approximately $300 each for the training, 25 were from the Carlton County area and the rest came from other parts of Minnesota and several flew in from other states.

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By the end of the week, the students at the IFOC training will have some training in each of the following areas: chaplaincy and the law, domestic violence, disaster preparedness, trauma, suicidology, depression, stress management, death notification, critical incident stress management (CISM) and critical incident stress debriefing.

"The process of recovery is not about the grief and trauma, but is about moving from victim to survivor," the CISM pamphlet states.

Inside, it explains that crisis intervention is NOT psychotherapy, rather it is a "specialized acute emergency mental health intervention."

"As physical first aid is to surgery, crisis intervention is to psychotherapy," it reads. "Thus crisis intervention is sometimes called 'emotional first aid.'"

Cloquet Area Fire District Chief Kevin Schroeder said he would like the CAFD to utilize area chaplains - something they don't currently do - both to assist firefighters with "debriefing" after an incident, and to provide follow-up care to the victims of fire and other disasters.

"We [firefighters] are good at solving problems," he said. "We put out the fire and leave. And you're standing there, with everything you own and loved burned to the ground. That's where this program would really help. We try to put people in touch with the proper resources, but we never really follow up."

Jill Hatfield, who arranged for the training in Carlton and attended a 2004 training in Florida, said that's exactly what did happen after an apartment fire in Carlton. Hatfield, who is executive director of Volunteer Services of Carlton County, said Volunteer Services got involved with connecting the fire victims with resources and supplies being offered by the community to help them get back on their feet long term.

"The Red Cross is great, but they only help for the first couple days," Hatfield said. "People need more than that."

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Hatfield said she originally got the training because she was making nursing home visits and felt ill-equipped to respond correctly when people brought up events from their past that were troubling them.

"I know a lot of people get hurt by people counseling them that don't know what to say," she explained.

Then she worked with Sheriff Kelly Lake and Moose Lake Police Chief Bryce Bogenholm on the TRIAD program, and soon realized there was a great need in the county for more trained chaplains.

Long story short, Hatfield organized the Carlton County training, simply because she thought it was important, not as part of her job. Hatfield is also the local coordinator for the Minnesota Responds service, which basically means she can send out an email statewide when Carlton County is in need of particular services. Vice versa, she can help find volunteers from Carlton County when other parts of the state require assistance.

"Our chaplains will be offered to police departments and volunteer fire departments in our county and throughout the state, as well as working in hospitals, clinics, schools, etc.," Hatfield explained. "Most chaplains are volunteers, although some are paid. Around here, they'll probably be volunteers."

Both Esko Fire Chief Kyle Gustafson and Cromwell Fire Chief Steve Bridge said they plan to ask local chaplains for more help with staff debriefing and counseling after fatal accidents like the one on Interstate 35 last Thursday, and other emergency calls that don't end well.

"We have a very young crew now and 24 EMTs. Their expectation, what they see on TV, is that they will save the person every time. That's not reality," Bridge said. "And we don't deal well with the family members; it puts a lot of stress on the EMTs. In the future, I'd definitely like to find out who's available."

As the panel with local law enforcement and emergency responders drew to a close, it seemed there will be no shortage of trained chaplains who are willing to help in Carlton County and beyond.

For more information on the IFOC program, visit www.ifoc.org . Locally, contact Jill Hatfield at Volunteer Services at 879-9238.

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