The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

May 8, 2009

Program will offer spiritual comfort at disaster sites


EBENSBURG — Spiritual counseling will be available to victims and their families during emergencies and disasters under a program approved Friday by the Cambria County commissioners.

First Spiritual Responders, organized with the cooperation of the county’s emergency services department, apparently is a first in Homeland Security’s Region 13, which covers 13 western Pennsylvania counties and the city of Pittsburgh.

The group’s organizers, the Rev. Dave Hamman, a Nazarene ordained minister and former trauma chaplain at Memorial Medical Center for seven years, and the Rev. Jay Cook, pastor of Westmont United Methodist Church, attended Friday’s meeting.

Seven pastors are volunteers with the program and have been through training, they said.

“This will provide pastors with access without problems to the site or near sites, and the latitude to meet with families at their spiritual level. We would locate their spiritual advisers if they wished that,” Hamman said.

The pastors would be called out through the county’s 911 Center and would work with mental-health and Red Cross workers at the emergency scenes, Cook said.

The commissioners authorized the group to seek grants in the county’s name and to display an insignia with the county’s name and seal for identification purposes.

If the need arises, the volunteers are prepared to respond effective immediately, Cook said.

The emergency would not have to be a major disaster but could be a less serious incident, he said.

Emergency situations can be traumatic for victims and families, and the counseling hopefully will help them, Hamman said.