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Ambulances to Offer Spiritual Help

Matt Miller | Tuesday, August 26, 2008

CARLISLE, Pa. -- Chuck Kish was driving near Carlisle a few months ago when he came upon a traffic accident scene.

It was a fatal crash.

Kish, pastor of Bethel Assembly of God Church, realized that when he saw tarps covering bodies.

"I saw an emergency medical technician walk over to one of the bodies. They lifted the corner of the tarp and he turned away," Kish recalled. "I'll forever remember the look on his face. I thought, he needs a chaplain."

That traumatic moment planted a seed that will germinate next month when four volunteer chaplains from his South Middleton Twp. church begin riding with crews from Carlisle's Cumberland Goodwill Ambulance company.

It might be the first such program in Pennsylvania.

The chaplains, Kish among them, will be at the elbows of the emergency medical technicians to help those crews, patients and families deal with the physical and emotional pain ambulance workers encounter on a daily basis.

"At some point, I think, every person of faith has to take stock of their lives and ask, 'Are we giving back enough?'" said Jack Rau, one of the volunteer chaplains. "I can't think of a more perfect place to serve people in need."

Janette Kearney, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Health Services Council, which advises the state Department of Health on ambulance issues, said she knows of no other unit in the state that has chaplains riding with crews.

Rau and the other chaplains, Amy Jones and Frank Poley, are commissioned ministers with Bethel. Rau has undergone first-responder training in basic ambulance procedures. Jones is a nurse.

Robert Pine, Cumberland Goodwill's EMS chief, said he expects his crews will welcome them. "I don't sense any reluctance," he said.

The crews already can seek counseling after stressful calls, but this will be different because the chaplains, in many cases, have been through the same experiences and will be able to relate, Pine said.

"There is a benefit in talking to someone who has been there, someone who understands," Pine said.

Such understanding is most needed after calls involving children, he said.

"When kids are involved, it's always very, very hard," Pine said. "Most of our people have kids of their own. When they come back from one of those calls, you see the looks on their faces and know they need someone to talk to."

During the height of a call, the chaplains will mostly stand back. They will be expected to get equipment, Kish said, and to help calm patients, inform and counsel families and pray with them if asked.

"There is no expectation that they'll be providing [medical] care," Pine said.

Chaplains, who will have special uniforms, will ride with crews in the evenings, which Pine said are among the busiest times for calls.

The ambulance effort will mark the second time Kish and Rau have donned uniforms for community service.

Both are veterans of a police chaplaincy program Kish organized that operates with the Carlisle and North Middleton Twp. police forces.

"It seems that God has put us at all the points of pain in the community," Kish said.

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