Professional development and support for first responder chaplains

Chaplain David Pascoe, Director of Chaplain Community Life, Spiritual Care Association, reports on providing crisis and trauma training for chaplains.

In a world increasingly at a loss for comfort and support in times of suffering and crisis, there are men and women of all religious backgrounds, faith systems, and world views called to serve their fellow human beings with compassionate care. They are called chaplains. In the UK, their role in hospitals, hospices, elder care, and other medical settings has been an essential component of whole-person care and wellbeing for centuries. Chaplains also have a long history of serving in the armed forces, in education, and in prisons. Outside these traditional settings, there is a special breed of chaplains who provide spiritual and emotional support in times of crisis to the public and to those professionals in police, fire, EMS, and all manner of disaster response services. These individuals are called first responder chaplains. The primary responsibility of a first responder chaplain is to provide emotional and spiritual care to first responders, their families, and civilian employees of first responder agencies.

Just as vital, however, is being dispatched to a critical incident to help care for individuals and family members who have been affected by the emergency, crisis, trauma, disaster, or an unexpected traumatic death. Unlike other chaplains in health care and the military, for example, most first responder chaplains serve as volunteers. The training and certifications they receive to help them serve with confidence can vary widely. So can any after-care available to the chaplains themselves to help them deal with the emotions they feel after being exposed to human suffering and loss. Since 2006, an American organisation called the Spiritual Care Association (SCA) has been providing training and education to first responder chaplains that is focused on evidence-based best practices in spiritual care, an element often missing in the training of chaplains serving in first responder roles (

SCA also runs a support programme called Communities of Chaplains, which offers chaplains the chance to meet with others once a month via Zoom for collegiality and confidential mutual support. ( Some communities are only for first responder chaplains while others are geographically based and include chaplains from all walks of life. The first recipient in the UK of SCA’s First Responder training certificate is Chaplain Jacquetta Gomes. In June of 2022, she successfully completed the Crisis, Trauma, and First Response certificate course, a self-paced online training program. She is seen here at the time with her certificate. A Buddhist since her youth, Jacquetta is acknowledged as the world’s first ever female Buddhist fire chaplain. In 2014, Jacquetta made history for women in her faith upon becoming a fire chaplain for East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service.

Jacquetta volunteers with The Fire Fighters Charity and she was their first fire chaplain when their multi-faith chaplaincy was launched in Inter Faith Week in 2015. This organisation supports all serving and retired Fire and Rescue Service personnel, their dependents, and other eligible members of the UK fire services community throughout their lives, helping them to live happier and healthier. As the daughter of a firefighter herself, Jacquetta is keenly aware of the bonds between people working in the Fire Service. “We see the Fire Service as a family,” she says. As a Buddhist, Jacquetta says her experience of mindfulness has been beneficial for her role as a fire chaplain. The five daily remembrances of Buddhism – I am of the nature to age; I am of the nature to get ill; I am of the nature to die; everything will be separated from me that is pleasing; I am the owner of my karma – are also relevant. Since joining the Spiritual Care Association, Jacquetta has found many opportunities to learn and grow as a spiritual care provider. SCA’s First Responder Chaplain Division (FRCD) focuses on the spiritual dimension of professional first response practice. (

“I wish I had had this training in the essentials of providing spiritual care when I first became a fire chaplain ten years ago,” Jacquetta says.

“It’s important to know that as a person of faith, you must be open to people of all religious backgrounds including those who have none, and that this is not an opportunity to proselytize or promote your own faith as having all the answers to life’s challenges.”

The SCA training course Jacquetta took included topics such as working with diverse and vulnerable populations, communication skills, psychological first aid, spiritual screening and assessment, dying, death, and grief, and more. It also covers skills development in caring for members of the first response team and identifying important issues such as burnout and compassion fatigue. Jacquetta recently joined the new SCA FRCD Advisory Committee. For her part, Jacquetta values the connections and support she has made with other first responder chaplains in the USA and beyond by being an active member of SCA’s Communities of Chaplains program. “These monthly Zoom calls have become a safe place for me to share issues of personal and professional challenge, as well as to meet new people working as chaplains in health care, police, fire and other emergency service settings. I highly recommend this resource.”

First responder chaplains in the UK who are interested in joining a group can email an enquiry with the details of their role to Chaplain David Pascoe at: [email protected]

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