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Chaplains to ride along with Marble Falls first responders in mental health program

A chaplain program for first responders in Marble Falls will launch soon, providing additional support for on and off-duty officers. Spearheaded by the Marble Falls Police Department, the program focuses on the mental well-being of the force’s employees. 

Over the past two years, the department has made a conscious effort to address mental health issues caused by work-related traumas, previously a taboo topic in the field, Assistant Police Chief Glenn Hanson said.

“When I entered the field in 1990, you didn’t talk about (mental health),” Hanson explained. “Everybody knew (the effects of the job) made some folks alcoholics and made other folks depressed, but nobody talked about it. That has changed, and that’s for the good.” 

While the department already offers secular support resources to employees, Hanson began pursuing a more spiritual option. With the help of members of the Highland Lakes Ministerial Alliance, the new chaplain program was adopted by the city’s police and fire departments as well as Marble Falls Area EMS.

Chaplains such as Greg Neill, preaching minister at the Marble Falls Church of Christ, will volunteer their time by going on ride-alongs with first responders and spending time with dispatchers as they work. 

“This isn’t about us pressing our theological beliefs,” Neill said. “It’s really there for support and to listen in a way that maybe is outside of the scope of some of the things they have in place.” 

Neill said chaplains have met with Hanson and other program organizers to prepare for the launch. According to Hanson, chaplains had to go through background checks before being approved to help. 

To identify themselves to first responders and members of the public, chaplains will wear special uniform vests while on the job. Because chaplains could potentially be exposed to traumatic experiences while riding with officers, they will have access to the department’s secular team of counselors, Hanson said. 

Chaplains will also support the families of first responders when needed, Neill said. 

“I think there’s something really powerful about presence,” Neill said. “We want to let their families know that, while we can’t really understand what they’re going through, we can go through it with them.” 

Hanson said ride-alongs will begin within the next month as program details are finalized. 

brigid@thepicayune.com

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