MISSOULA — First responders have nerves of steel but even the bravest among us need emotional support, especially after responding to catastrophic fires, devastating car crashes or death. And by their side are the chaplains who offer comfort and support.
Missoula Police chaplains David Lodwig and Aaron Koepke are the ones who'll hold a parent’s hand to tell them their child has died. They’re also there to help a troubled officer when they’ve seen horrible things out on a call -- and they do it as volunteers.
“To be an agent of compassion and be an agent of support when someone goes through an inevitable awful,” Lodwig explained. “Awful moments in life is more rewarding than it sounds just to be able to be there and help people through those moments.
"In moments of crisis like this, it matters how this is handled," Koepke said. "It can be handled poorly, and this is a moment where you really deserve to have someone with you to hold it together with you until you get your feet underneath you.
As volunteers, Lodwig and Koepke use their own cars and often pay for their own supplies to serve the public -- and they say, they are happy to do it. But they were recently encouraged to form a non-profit to help fund what they do and with a board of directors behind them, comes the brand-new Missoula Chaplain Services
“As a volunteer, it’s been hard to juggle our full-time professions as well as the commitments we’ve made to the community.” says Lodwig. “Donations go to provide us with ongoing training, enable us to be able to provide to first responder support and events for their families, provide resources to people in traumatic moments.”
A new Crisis Support Initiative launches early next year under the umbrella of Missoula Chaplain services, providing care to the Missoula Police Department and other local first response agencies. It’s dedicated to helping provide greater on-site resources to those who find themselves in moments of extreme trauma and loss.
Right now, Lodwig and Koepke are the only two Missoula Police chaplains and they will need more help. Missoula’s population is growing and with that growth comes more crime. And for law enforcement in particular, the pressure is building.
"Last year, the amount of first responder suicides was larger than on duty deaths," Lodwig said. "And so the statistics show us that every other day in America, a cop kills himself."
When an officer needs support, being a familiar face goes a long way which is why investing in face to face time at the police station, the firehouse or with the Montana Highway Patrol is important.
"The nonprofit hopefully will allow us to spend more time, more deliberate time more scheduled time doing ride along and such to develop that relational capital," Koepke said.
“Trauma will touch the lives of the people in our community and who is going to be there when it does," Lodwig told MTN News.
Partner’s Creative in Missoula has donated time and talent to bring awareness to Missoula Chaplin Services.