Exeter police chaplain receives training in Tennessee

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

New skills, fresh perspective gleaned for local responder

Local responder Tracy Tillman recently returned from a week long chaplain training experience in Cordova, Tenn.

Morgan Struble, Exeter Police Chief, said there are great benefits of having a trained police chaplain in the area to respond to all manner of crisis situations.

"We have money allotted in the city fund for police training, and Tillman had provided voluntary chaplain services for the police department," Struble said. "We agreed to use money from the training that was left over, and is typically used for continuing education every year.

"We felt it would be a good base training to give Tillman a better skill set, more knowledge, networking, and resources to use in his position as police chaplain. It would give him a set of tools to use if I need assistance for any type of crime or incident."

The training was offered through Crisis Response International, and focused on chaplain services, medical, security, human trafficking and emergency management. He also received trained on homeland security and hostile situations.

"Everything was geared around a hostile environment and was really graphic in nature," Tillman said. "I think we have become complacent to terrorist activities as a society and we don't realize that it's coming to our back door, and the mainstream media is not showing the information our country needs to protect itself. Another hostile situation on the home-front could involve a mom and dad fighting and a gun is pulled out."

Tillman he took away from the training a good foundation.

"I have new skills and a list of resources I'm able to call on now with the different police departments," he said. "To serve as a police chaplain is an honor, and I think the training helped me see that there are a lot more resources out there for emergency response, and helped me learn the importance of adapting and improving upon my skills. It has also helped me see that there are like-minded people willing to serve."

Examples of police chaplain duties can include responding to death notifications, disasters, suicide calls, and domestic incidences. Tillman already has lots of experience helping in these kinds of situations, making him a natural fit for the position. He has served 17 years as a fire responder in Taney, Stone and Barry counties, and he has a background in canine, hazmat, search and rescue, traffic safety, disaster relief and emergency response training.

He has helped victims from the Joplin tornado, helped with crisis response or cleanup after traffic accidents and helped with someone who was feeling suicidal. His three-year old police dog, Angel, often accompanies him, and he can often be seen responding to fires.

"I drive the big red truck." Tillman said.

There are also incidences that arise from people wandering away due to dementia, or children becoming lost from wandering away from campsites during summer vacations, Tillman said.

"I see myself as a resource," he said.

He also currently helps out at Lives Under Construction near Lampe, where boys are trained in search and rescue, CPR, coast guard and canine areas.

"Tracy just enjoys serving and helping people," Struble said. "He does it because he loves it and that's what he likes to do. He's the type of person you can call any time day or night and he'd be right there. Knowing that I knew i wanted him on board one way or another. He's very involved in his church and his faith."

Tracy also said he constantly prays for people in crisis situations.

"I pray when I see police cars and ambulances en route to an emergency, and at an incident," he said. "I always ask first, and if they don't want me to, I do anyway just, not out loud."

Tillman said he often helps the police by dealing with trauma or traffic, whatever the need is. "Sometimes I just sit with people," he said. "When someone has lost everything, is there really some answer that's going to put everything at ease? If it helps someone's heart, sometimes just sitting is what's needed, and there's nothing that needs to be said."

As for serving, Tillman said whether it's serving food or shoveling mud out of a house that's been under water for three days, it involves doing whatever is needed. Chaplain services can also involve assisting police officers and responders with debriefing or diffusing in crisis situations.

"As someone who has seen crisis, I can help them unload or get things out of their head so they can better focus on what's at hand," Tillman said.

Tillman's influence and service has expanded to other areas, as he was recently invited by Springfield police to do a reading at a memorial service for fallen officers.

"To honor their fallen is amazing," he said.

The City of Exeter expressed gratitude to have the resource and benefit of a police chaplain on hand to respond to all types of crisis situations.

"Everyone with the city really appreciates what he does since a chaplain position is not budgeted and we don't have money slotted for it," Struble said. "Its low cost to the city and on a volunteer basis so he is very much appreciated."

Tillman said he was grateful to the city for paying for him to have the training.

"Their confidence in me is encouraging," he said. "To learn to serve is way better than self-serving."

The training was paid for by the city of Exeter, at a cost of $400, including room and board. Tillman paid for his own travel.

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