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Public safety chaplains: to protect and console
by Krystal Bick
Jun 11, 2008 | 3295 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Krystal Bick- Ray Murray, senior chaplain for the Sparks Police and Fire Departments, is proud to help his fellow officers when dealing with work-related grief.
Tribune/Krystal Bick- Ray Murray, senior chaplain for the Sparks Police and Fire Departments, is proud to help his fellow officers when dealing with work-related grief.
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On Sunday mornings, Ray Murray used to preach to his congregation at Emmanuel First Baptist Church in Sparks. Now, he dons a police badge.

Murray, a retired pastor of 37 years, works for the Sparks Police and Fire Departments as a senior chaplain, providing emotional and spiritual help to officers and civilians at tragic scenes.

"Our goal is to make sure that our officers are stable," Murray said. "We try to make their jobs easier."

Murray, who is one of the original chaplains of the program started in 1987, is head of the eight-member staff. Responsible for responding to such instances as shootings, fatal vehicle accidents and death notifications, the chaplains are on call on a weekly volunteer basis.

Drawing from different religious denominations, including Methodist, Catholic and African Methodist Episcopal, the chaplain program requires training in dealing with traumatic situations to put all those on scene at ease.

"While our police officers and firefighters are trained to save lives, they are not trained in handling traumatized citizens or tremendous grief," Murray said. "We're (chaplains) available because we are trained to deal with that."

The on-call chaplains average one traumatic call a week, with the most typical being an unexpected death either by heart attack or drug overdose, Murray said. Also, he said, suicides are common and hysterical family members must be calmed.

"We respond to anything that comes as traumatic," Murray said. "A chaplain is available to talk out a situation and to unload some of the emotional baggage that is so easy to pick up in tough situations."

In one such tough situation, Murray recalled what he considers the worst scene he's been on. It involved a father who had accidentally driven over his 19-month-old son, killing the child instantly. Murray was called out to deal not only with the family but with the officers, as well.

"Officers handle death as well as anybody since they deal with it almost everyday," Murray said. "But when it comes to the death of a child, it's just chaos. It was chaos that day."

And it is this sensitive handling that officers like Sgt. Mike Cardella appreciate.

"It's nice to have someone to talk to who knows what we go through," Cardella said. "They provide solace."

And among the tough situations he deals with, Murray said that there is a positive side to his job, a reason that compelled him to take on the job in the first place.

"The average person has no concept of what police officers and fire fighters do," Murray said. "When I started I discovered whole new aspects of what they do for us. I wanted to be part of a solution to help keep these officers healthy and help them deal with the stress of their jobs."

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