By Chaplain Steve Lee
The mood was somber in the high school auditorium in Orlando where the large group of involved officers gathered for critical incident stress debriefing orientation. The commander in charge of the debriefing introduced the session by describing the horrific terrorist attack on The Pulse nightclub as “the mother of critical incidents.”
I’ve attended the scenes of other demonic births including large-scale attacks at Columbine, Ground Zero, Virginia Tech, and Aurora, but I’ve also been witness to many “smaller” critical incidents, if any could be called that. In truth, every critical incident is a “mother” for those tragically affected. But in the grisly numbers game of body counts, Orlando is of course the worst terrorist attack in the U.S. since 9/11…Until sadly the next gut-wrenching incident, God forbid.
After orientation, we broke up into 10 smaller groups of 25-30 officers each, with each led by a team of trained facilitators including myself and QRT partner Chaplain Frank Ruffatto, Executive Director of Peace Officer Ministries (the chaplaincy ministry I founded in 1996). The purpose of critical incident stress debriefing is to talk out the event according to an established protocol to mitigate the emotional (here I add “spiritual”) impact of a life-threatening event. The goal is to prevent potential stress reactions up to and including full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder—PTSD.
There was much to talk out. Because confidentiality is a necessary part of the debriefing process, here I simply say that in general I remind first responders that, yes, they have a responsibility to professionally debrief every incident, but personally they need to “let go and let God.” We must accept our human limitations in preventing evil, sometimes tough for first responders to do, but we also need to realize we can turn these frustrations over to a loving God who walks with us through the shadowed valley (Psalm 23). We can find healing, if we let go and let God heal us.
By God’s grace, Frank and I accomplished much on our Florida deployment, including a side trip to visit the commander of the incident involving the 2 year-old boy killed by an alligator—another tragedy (take a look at our redacted field notes).
No pictures here, and words fail. We all need to pray for our communities, our country and our culture. Thanks for being our ministry partner!