Answering the call

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Clovis Police chaplains, clockwise from left, Frank Sherman, Furgus Tunnell, Dick Ross and Terry Martin all volunteer their time.

By Tony Gutierrez: CNJ staff writer

When dispatchers receive 9-1-1 calls, sometimes they send more than the police and emergency medical services.

In the case of a traumatic or fatal accidents or crimes, they also notify volunteer chaplains.

Seven area ministers volunteer as emergency service chaplains in Clovis, taking turns being on-call for week-long shifts. They also work with county and state emergency agencies.

The Rev. Dick Ross, an associate pastor at Central Baptist Church, began volunteering with the fire department in 1984 and was the city’s only emergency chaplain until the mid-1990s.

He said among the chaplains’ duties are notifying the families of victims.

“There’s a big wreck in the night and you go to somebody’s front door and basically invite yourself into their house and tell them news that changes their lives forever,” he said. “Telling mom and dad their teenager will never be home again — that’s tough stuff.”

Ross said when he’s dispatched, he may be sent to the scene of the incident, the hospital or a victim’s house. Ross said chaplains always go with a uniformed officer to give them credibility.

The chaplains will wear either a khaki vest that says “CHAPLAIN” on the back or clerical collar to distinguish them.

Ross said when dealing with people not part of his denomination, he tries to contact their pastor or a friend to be there with them.

“I treat them all pretty much the same. They’re in a bad state of crisis and we try to help them out any way we can,” Ross said. “I’m Baptist, but I’ve worked with more Catholics in crisis than my own people. There’s times they may be Jewish or Muslim or Mormon, but we try to help them out as best we can as if they were from our own church.”

Ross recruited the Rev. Louis Gordon, an elder at Legacy Life Family Church, in 1994.

“I’ve been called on several situations where I’d have to do death notifications and also minister to the family of a loved one who was either murdered or died,” Gordon said. “It’s a blessing for me to be there for someone and provide the means to be able to do that.”

Clovis Fire Department Capt. Karen Burns, a liaison between the department and the chaplains, said she pages them any time there is an incident where death is or could be involved, and sometimes calls two at a time.

“If I even think we can utilize them, I page them out because I want them to be active with us,” Burns said.

The chaplains also help the officers deal with stressful situations. Ross said the average police officer involved in a shooting is gone from the force within three years.

“We don’t want that to happen to our guys. We want him to continue to function,” Ross said. “We do personal counseling with firefighters and law enforcement. A lot of the ministry of chaplains is teamed with the ministry of presence. Just riding with them, the chaplains try to spend time with the police department and fire department so we can understand their jobs better.”

Chaplains

Dick Ross, head chaplain
Associate pastor at Central Baptist Church
Chaplain since 1984

Frank Sherman
Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church
Chaplain since 1992

Louis Gordon
Elder at Legacy Life Family Church
Chaplain since 1994

Anthony Mahan
Pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church (Tucumcari)
Chaplain since 1994

Terry Martin
Pastor of Triangle Baptist Church
Chaplain since 1994

Furgus Tunnell
Pastor of Westbrook Baptist Church
Chaplain since 2004

Jim Kelly
Pastor of the Church of the Brethren
Chaplain since 2005