Responding to the Responders

By Dana Patrick

First responders come running toward the crisis while most of us are panicked trying to run away from it. They are some of our most vulnerable and at-risk public servants. Not only are they willing to put themselves into potentially dangerous situations to keep us safe, but the high levels of sensory exposure can lead to health challenges and shortened lifespans. So who takes care of them?

When something traumatic happens, and without hesitation, there are people who care for the victims and families. We want to do everything possible to ease their suffering. Additionally, the responders who dealt with that tragedy also need care. They’re not just responders, but people too. People with spouses, children, parents and siblings. While your crisis might not be theirs, they still take it home with them. They wake up in the middle of the night with images in their mind that are hard to let go. They grieve over the people they can’t save. And then they get up the next day and respond to another call. If we don’t care for them, how long can they keep doing it? The people who benefit from caring for responders are the communities they serve.

My team and I have the privilege of serving as First Responder Chaplains in Forsyth County, N.C. The program began in July 2016 when Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center hired Chaplain Glenn Davis to join the FaithHealth Division. Davis was the fulltime chaplain for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office for 26 years. A service agreement between the Sheriff’s Office and the Medical Center created an opportunity to expand chaplaincy support countywide. I was brought onto the team in July 2017 and we added a third staff chaplain, Aaron Eaton, to our ranks in September 2018. January 2019 marked another expansion, a service agreement with Forsyth County to provide crisis support services for all county departments such as DSS, Public Health, EMS and County Fire.

As First Responder Chaplains, some of our duties include: accompanying responders onto the scene where tragedy occurs to offer compassionate care for families; relaying traumatic messages and death notifications; offering follow-up care for families and responders; and facilitating Group Crisis Interventions. In order to provide these services, being embedded and building trust with first responders is critical. Getting to know them before the crisis hits makes it more likely that they’ll reach out for support once it does.

Much of what we do is reactive to events that occur, but we also want to be proactive. We provide wellness training and self-care education to responders and their families. We are also constantly building our referral network so that we can help connect folks to the care they need as quickly as possible. With adequate support and healthy coping skills, most people can recover well from a traumatic experience. I work with an amazing team of chaplains, and it is our hope to provide compassionate care to the heroes of our community.

Dana Patrick is an Alliance-endorsed chaplain to first responders for Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. She lives with her husband Charlie and their three wonderful boys, Zachary, Eli, and Jacob. 

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