In an emergency, police and fire departments are the first things that come to mind. But, like many cities, Airway Heights has a group of chaplains who can provide help in emergencies, offering an extended arm of support for fellow residents.
The city’s chaplains are on call for any situation that may arise from the city’s police or fire department. They are there to help provide support for victims and work with them to develop a plan for contacting family or other emergency contacts.
In addition, Airway Heights’ chaplains also assist Fire District 10 when requested, offering their help and a compassionate arm that extends throughout the West Plains.
Lead chaplain Dale Jenkins, pastor of the Airway Heights Baptist Church, and Police Chief Lee Bennett got the program rolling, and it has grown since.
“Our main goal is to give support to victims,” Jenkins said. “When we can connect them to their own support system, we can be truly effective. If they don’t have a support system, we can try to be that support system, to whatever degree we can.”
The chaplains respond to around two calls a month, in recent times. That number, however, greatly fluctuates depending on how busy the police or fire departments are in a particular month.
Emergency responders on the scene are able to tell if a victim is under obvious emotional duress. If so, they offer to contact the chaplains and have them meet with the victim on the scene.
“They ask the families as well as determine if we’re needed,” he said. “If they’re not sure, they’ll ask the family, and if they have an interest in having our support then they’ll call us immediately.”
Jenkins said the chaplains are also able to be with officers when they deliver one of the more emotional parts of the job: death notices.
“We are kid of uniquely equipped with the combination of church experience and chaplain training to help the family through those kinds of things,” he said.
The newest addition to the group was made last month with Josh Singleton, also the Student Ministry/Associate Pastor of the Airway Heights Baptist Church.
“It’s just another ministry aspect, really,” he said. “It’s not us promoting our doctrine everywhere we go, it’s just being there in crisis for the victim. That’s what ministry is, in a sense, is us being there.”
Mayor Patrick Rushing has been fully supportive of the project throughout his time with the city, including his current term as mayor.
“When I got in to this position, the first thing I wanted to was make use our chaplains program was supported, that we use our chaplains for the council meetings, to come in and give the invocation,” Rushing said. “I think it’s really important that we have people who are not only trained, but have the ability to say the words that really need to be directed.”
The Newtown, Conn. school shooting last week also placed an added emphasis on being a presence in the school, where volunteer firefighter graduations take place.
“Now we attend all of the firefighters’ graduations so we can meet them,” Jenkins said.
Rushing said the current make-up of the chaplains works perfectly in terms of age demographics, with Singleton being able to relate to younger individuals, Ron Davis working with middle-aged residents and Jenkins having the ability to have an effect on the entire age spectrum.
Chaplains are listed as volunteers in the department and have a uniform when responding on official duties.
“It takes a special kind of person to do that job,” Rushing said. “I think that there’s a calming effect that you can see throughout the community, which is very important.”
James Eik can be reached at email@example.com.