What does a chaplain carry with him/her?

To my fellow Trauma Intervention and chaplain friends:

I had a brand new chaplain ask me what to carry in his vehicle to assist victims and survivors of traumatic incidents to which he is called.  I thought this a good time/place to show him what I carry, and to ask others of you what you carry as well.

I keep these in a Home Depot style bucket for quick easy access.

I keep these in a Home Depot style bucket for quick easy access.

These are items I carry in my Home Depot style 5 gallon bucket for quick access.  I figure the bucket can come in hand in ways that I might not even consider in an emergency:  digging out snow, hauling water from a creek, using as a seat, using as a “puke” bucket while traveling.  The limits are only in your imagination 😉

  • Several bottles of water.  They have a shelf life, so drink through them on occasion or hand them out to homeless folks or swap out with water at home on occasion so you will have a fresh supply.
  • High visibility safety vest.  (if you are a chaplain or with TIP, your agency likely supplies this.  Look in the bike or running isle at Wall-mart etc though for an inexpensive but highly visible one if need be.)  I keep mine in a large Ziploc bag to keep it clean, never put it away wet.  Use only if needed such as during a traffic call where there are still vehicles traveling nearby, or where first responders need to identify you quickly when it is dark, etc.
  • Teddy Bears.  Stuffed animals are GREAT to give to children during your calls if appropriate.  Having something to hug whenever they want can be a great benefit – keep these clean rather than giving old dirty used stuffed animals.
  • Rain gear – Nuff said, right?  Don’t forget rain pants if you live where you may be in the rain for hours at at time.
  • Blankets.  I carry two or three, they are the small fleece variety as it is what I can afford but if you can carry heavier blankets in the cold months that would be great.  I have used these for folks even in nice weather as a source of comfort more so than to actually keep them warm.  When a person is in shock, a blanket can be very useful.
  • A small can or bottle of Coke.  I have not tried this, but I understand that a warm Coca Cola can help pull people out of shock when they are deeply in shock.   I don’t know how it works, have not done enough research, but have heard it from a source I highly regard, so carry just in case I decide to try that sometime.

Top Layer of the plastic bin.

Top Layer of the plastic bin.

The contents of my Tupperware style container are in a top layer and a bottom layer.  Here on the top, the quickest to get to, are the things I use the most often:

  • Resource Guide from TIP if you volunteer with them.  If you are a chaplain however, you should take a look at these as a model of printed material to carry.  You can find a PDF here of the older version for the Portland/Vancouver area.  Chaplains will do well to look at what kind of printed material is in TIP’s resource guide and create a similar set of printed materials.  Print some copies of similar things such as contact list for local funeral homes, restoration and board up companies, mental health resources, local police/fire/hospitals, Medical Examiner, Chaplains in and out of the area, benevolence ministries, language interpretation assistance, Crisis lines, suicide hotline, Red Cross, churches, Organ/Tissue donations, etc.  Also, some printed material you can hand to family of those in shock to help them know what to look for and how to help in the next 24-48 hours.  Information about helping children, or general info about dealing with grief.  This type of material should be something you can hand to victims or those who come around them to give them support.  They should not be read verbatim to them, though it is good to circle or highlight appropriate sections if needed.  Be careful not to show favoritism towards a particular funeral home, let them make those decisions but you can give them good advice on what to look for in general (proximity, ask about costs, previous experience in the family with a local funeral service, etc).  For chaplains:  include a list of other available first responders that your firefighter, officer, EMT etc can talk to if you have not established much of a relationship yet.  These should be first responders you have permission to make referrals to whom you think would be helpful.  Peer support members make good candidates.
  • Contact Cards:  chaplains should have a business card for folks to get back in touch with you if they require additional resources.  If you don’t want to give your cell number, give your agency’s contact info out or get a GoogleVoice number for your phone so you can control when these calls go to voicemail or your cell.  Never give out your home phone number or home address.  You will on occasion deal with people who need your assistance but who may also be a danger to you and others.  Protect yourself and your family at all times!
  • Chemical hand warmers, toe warmers, and for those extra cold days a couple of body warmers for inside the jacket.  I buy these after snow season and get them half price.  You can’t have to many of these.  These are not just for you, but to give to survivors when out in the cold for extended periods of time (or hand one to a first responder if appropriate though they are generally very well prepared for the weather.)

Lower half of the bin.

Lower half of the bin.

Below the written materials and hand-warmers I store the following useful items:

  • Kleenex, in the pocket style that folds in half.  These are small enough to carry in jacket or cargo pants pockets, easier to pull just one at a time and to keep the unused tissues clean for the next time.
  • Handi-wipes: individually wrapped, anti-bacterial.  You will be in places on occasion that are filthy, and more often you will be in places where there are the unseen germs and bacteria or chemicals that you do not want in your body.  Using a sink at the victim’s residence may not, probably is not, the best choice.  Using a wipe once you are at your vehicle however is a great idea, or at least hand sanitizer if you prefer.
  • Disposable gloves.  Rarely needed for me so far, but there are (and will be) times.
  • Extra flashlights/batteries, and LED or chemical glow sticks for your vehicle.  For flashlights, smaller and brighter are the characteristics I look for.  A 1000 or 1600 lumen LED light that uses 2 “18650” type rechargeable batteries will give you ample light for an ample amount of time (and keep your hands warm in a pinch!).  I look for Cree brand bulbs.  SureFire and UltraFire are good brand names for lights, among others.  These make MagLights look like toys.  Keep spare charged up batteries in your pocket (yep… again with the Cargo pants in mind!).  The glow sticks are primarily if you end up leaving your vehicle somewhere out in the middle of nowhere in the dark and you want it to be seen better, or to mark a tree near something you’ve found in the woods that you need to get back to 😉  The LED versions of these last longer and can be set to blink which attracts attention better.
  • Collapsible umbrella.  Can be used to help with rain for somebody you are assisting, but also great for shielding them from intrusive cameras if the press is present.
  • Package of gum.  I also carry a small Listerine “pocketpak” in my front pants pocket.  The gum is mostly for after a meal to clean my teeth if I can’t brush, the Listerine product is about the size of a postage stamp and immediately gets rid of coffee breath etc.  You can NOT comfort somebody who can’t stop thinking about your bad breath.  Pocketpaks are strong, pop one in a minute or so before talking, swish with water if needed, trust me.  In my experience, other mints don’t last as long however.
  • Snacks with long shelf-life and at least some nutritional value, and individually wrapped in small packages.  I currently have some boxes of raisins, bags of mixed nuts, beef jerky, and granola type bars.
  • Mylar emergency blankets.  This is something I just like to keep in my vehicles in case I run out of gas on top of Mt. Hood at 1:00am etc.  One more layer of personal protection that can really help keep in body heat when used with blankets, jackets, hand warmers, etc.
  • N-95 masks.  An N95 rating will protect you from most dust, mold, air borne pathogens or dry chemicals that you are likely to to be exposed to if helping victims safely retrieve important items from a flooded or burned home with permission of the first responders on scene.  Never enter a recent fire scene without that permission or protection, or without proper footwear (steel toes and thick souls).  Always wash well after exiting, and dispose of the gloves and masks.  The chemicals that continue to emit long after the fire is out can make you very sick, avoid exposure at all if possible.
  • Flip flops you can hand to shoe-less victims/survivors, as well as stocking caps, emergency supply kits (toiletries etc)

I carry a few other things as well, such as extra fluids for my vehicle and paper towels, my ID card, appropriate clothing/uniform, rubber boots, and a small shovel if potentially traveling in snow or sand.  I took a small pocket-sized Carmax with a screw on cap and filled it with Vicks vapor rub.  You will want that with you to use on your upper lip to mask oders at times (think summer time and rotting flesh etc… trust me!).  Also, a marker for your vehicle that you can hang on your rear view mirror (TIP provides to their volunteers) or a magnet for the front doors, or at least something large and highly visible for the dash board that identifies the organization you are with and your role.  Local authorities will want to know why your vehicle is where it is sometimes when you are responding.  Never assume you can park close to the scene without permission.

As a chaplain, it’s not a bad idea to have a bible you can give away if asked for one.  First aid kit for yourself, notepads (I prefer the “Rite in the Rain” brand and their weather proof pen) and extra pens, and extra communication things such as spare battery for your cell phone and a hand cranked am/fm/weather radio/USB charger.  If serving a large area such as a wildfire chaplain, a good set of binoculars and printed maps are important for when GPS and cell phones fail. Bug repellent and sunscreen are generally a good idea as well.

One quick online resource about things you may want to carry is this one: Illinois Fire Chaplains
See the last page on this site for additional ideas:  Emergency Services Chaplaincy
You might look at a manual from the Federation of Fire Chaplains


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