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Be Ridiculously Sure
By Danny Lynchard, CMC

My fellow chaplains and I try to get as much training as financially and schedulingly possible. Ok, I invented the word “schedulingly” but when you're talking about trying to find enough hours in the day to get into the trenches with people who are hurting, the word works. When paired with the word “financially” it becomes particularly appropriate, as both are challenges in our modern life. Not that anyone goes into this line of work for the money, but that's the topic for another day.

One recent training class we went to involved an active shooter scenario. The good thing about being a chaplain is that you usually don’t get there until there is an inactive shooter. The bad thing, however, is that you have to handle a lot of fear and anxiety from the parents and other relatives who are struggling to deal with the shock of the situation.

Such scenarios represent times of great uncertainty, chaos and spotty information. In fact, the information you do have is often not even completely true, especially in the initial stages. It's easy to forget how important that information is when you’re confronted with the smell of blood and gun powder, but the need is both real and pressing. Families need that information and often look to you to get it and get it quickly.

During such times it is easy to feel reasonably confident about the information you have learned. Since your desire to serve the family can be overwhelming, it might be tempting to give out that information. My advice is to simply not do it, no matter how confident you feel. Wait until that information until it has been confirmed by multiple sources. The only thing worse than waiting to validate information is giving out false information and having to correct it.

In my early years in the role of police and fire chaplain, I have actually made those mistakes. I have told families that their loved one was deceased when in reality they were not and I have told people their loved ones were okay when they were deceased. You only need to experience this once to learn to never do it again.

Today I have some tips to help you avoid finding yourself in such a difficult situation. Not only can these tips protect you, they can protect the loved ones of victims as well.

  1. Go to the scene and view the deceased, particularly if the body is in a location that is familiar to the family. Make note of details to help assure them that you were in the right place.
  2. Have the personnel in charge of the scene validate the victim's name and date of birth. It helps to see the driver’s license yourself and copy the information directly from it.
  3. Be sure relatives at the scene are actual relatives. Many cultures will identify themselves as a “sister” or “brother” based solely upon their social relationship with the deceased.
  4. Keep gathering information until you are “ridiculously sure” that you are correct. Instead of thinking of ways to validate the victim’s true identity, think of how an error might be made and work from that angle.

Does it take time? Absolutely! But if you don’t take the time to be “ridiculously sure” you will one day find yourself in a difficult, emotional and unnecessarily painful situation.

Danny Lynchard, CMC, has been the Director of the Tulsa Police/Fire Chaplaincy Corps for thirty plus years. His current work is to recruit and train local clergy to assist citizens and emergency workers during crisis. He is a Certified Master Chaplain. Additionally, he authored "Beef Stew for Cops", a collection of true inspirational stories from the life of emergency workers, and co-authored a military devotional entitled "Coming Home."

Danny Lynchard, Executive Director
Tulsa Police/Fire Chaplaincy Corps
600 Civic Center Tulsa, OK 74103

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