The Cowlitz County Chaplaincy commissioned three new volunteer chaplains last week, nearly doubling the number of people trained to provide crisis support to first responders and local families.
After receiving more than 100 hours of training Mike Velilla, Dawn Wiltbank and Grant Wilbank can now serve as active volunteer chaplains.
The new chaplains join two other volunteers and two full-time chaplains in the program. Velilla and the Wiltbanks will help provide additional relief for the full-time chaplains.
“Because we have two full-time guys, we use volunteers to give them relief so they don’t burn out,” said Chaplaincy Executive Director Paul Bricknell. “Sometimes a volunteer will take a weekend or a 24-hour shift. … There are a number of different ways they step in to provide relief.”
Volunteer chaplains take emergency response, first aid, victim support and stress management courses, among other training.
“It’s quite an extensive list of courses we need to take. … But it means we are perpetually being kept up to speed with the newest courses to keep us ready,” said Dawn Wiltbank.
Chaplains provide free support services to first responders and families, including more than 300 police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel in the county. Those services include counseling, crisis intervention, on-scene support and death notifications.
“Basically it’s a ministry of presence,” Grant Wiltbank said. “Its being there to empathize with what someone is going through and meeting their needs at that time … We help them through the first few hours of an (emergency) and make sure we can connect them with the resources — whether it be clergy, family or friends — to help them through the next stages.”
A chaplain arrives on scene of an emergency by the invitation of 911 dispatchers or when a department calls, Bricknell said. Once on scene, their job is to take care of the family and neighbors at an emergency scene so first responders can focus on their jobs, said Grant Wiltbank, a retired firefighter of 40 years.
“I know firsthand the stresses that our first responders go through dealing with crises. … I honestly felt called by God that was an area that he wanted me to continue to serve,” he said.
Chaplains also follow up with the first responders to help them debrief after stressful calls.
The Cowlitz Chaplaincy was established in 1983 and now has seven chaplains: two full-time staff members and five volunteers.
“One of the real blessings of this position with the Cowlitz County Chaplaincy is that chaplains have a real heart for people … It’s a privilege to work with the other chaplains,” Grant Wiltbank said. “I am humbled to be able to provide this service.”