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How to Assist Someone in Severe Distress Wisdom from Chaplain David Fair, Ph.D.

Photography Phil LeConte

A Publication of the Police Protective Fund

A Guiding Hand in the Darkness


Law Enforcement

middle of the storm -- the

paramedic or even a

Chaplaincy is not for

eye of a hurricane. There

private citizen may be

everyone. If Iʼm working

has to be that place of calm

pressed into service trying

with a chaplain candidate,

compassion on the scene

to calm down a person who

one of the first things I do is

of a horrific trauma. If only

has been stabbed, raped,

take him to the scene of a

for an instant, they know the

survived a car wreck when

trauma. I watch his eyes,

Chaplain is there. It is

others did not, or witnessed

his facial expressions and

called, the “Ministry of

the traumatic death of a

most of all his demeanor.

Presence”. Most often just

loved one.

being there calms the Usually within 5 minutes I


can tell you if he has what it

There is an old saying, “ Do all you can do. But all you

takes to be a Police

Police Chaplains are


trained professionals, but they canʼt be everywhere at

As Police Chaplains we

once. Therefore the first

have to be the calm in the

responding officer, the

can do is enough” Chaplain David Fair, Ph.D.

Chaplain David Fair, Ph.D.


Chaplain Dave始s Five Essential Steps to helping someone in severe distress regain some control and a sense of calm after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event --.



1. Wait until the police have secured the scene. You can be of no good to anyone if you are injured or dead. Professional Chaplains or paramedics never enter an area unless they know the scene is safe. Law enforcement must secure the scene before anyone else enters.


2. Control Breathing In a panic state, abnormal breathing is one of the main reasons a person may feel as if they are having a heart attack and are going to die. With shallow breathing the brain does not get enough oxygen and all sorts or psychological things start to happen. You must get the attention of the person. Say “Iʼm here to help you. Please listen to me. Look at me."


3. Speak Slowly and Clearly People who have witnessed a trauma are likely in psychogenic shock. You need to get them to look at you. Use simple words and speech. You will need to repeat. They will ask you the same questions over and over. Be patient.

4. Use the Person's Name In speaking to a family member, use the individual's name. They are not the "victim", the "deceased", the "remains" or anything else. 12

"I始m sorry John is dead." "Sue has been severely injured." "Jack is missing." The name is important to the family.

5. Use the "D" Word If it becomes your responsibility to deliver a death message, have the person sit down. Tell then you have some very bad news.


Then state simply and briefly: “Is your husband John Doe? Ma’am, I’m sorry to tell you there’s been a bad traffic accident. Mr. Doe was killed.  I’m so sorry: he is dead.”  This may seem cold, but the person has to hear the word ‘dead’.  Don’t say “passed away”, “gone with the Lord”, “expired”, or “is sleeping with the angels.”  No. He is dead. There have been many accounts in which a chaplain or first responder has tried to ease the blow, and the survivor misunderstood and thought the victim was still alive.



These five tips will be your guide

Let them take control again by

until a Chaplain or a trained

giving them choices to make.

clergy member arrives.

"Can I get you water or tea?"

If you end up being the only one

You can do this. Control your

to comfort a survivor, remember

own breathing. Stay calm. And

this phrase: “ Do no further

silently pray to your higher

harm”. God gave us two ears

power if you like.

and one mouth, so we need to listen twice as much as we talk.

Thank you for helping others.

Donʼt make decisions for them. Instead, empower them to make their own decisions.

Chaplain Fair


American Association of Police Officers The American Association of Police Officers is a not-for-profit educational organization dedicated to enhancing public safety by bringing the wisdom of AmericaĘźs law enforcement veterans to the next generation of Americans. 19

For 20 years, AAPO has built its reputation by preserving the wisdom of veteran law enforcers -- both active-duty and retired – with the ultimate purpose of preserving life and liberty. A warm and spirited thanks to the many law enforcement officers who have lent their wisdom and talents to our programming.



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