Cook County Seeking Volunteers for Emergency Services Chaplain Program

 By Steve Fernlund

The Cook County Sheriff’s office is seeking volunteers to serve on its Emergency Services Chaplain Program. Chaplains may be members of the clergy, but the program is open to others. Chaplains provide emotional and spiritual support when requested to first responders, their families, and the general public when those people have life-changing significant crisis experiences.

Dep. Mike Running

“We are often dealing with people on the worst day of their lives,” said Deputy Mike Running, the sheriff’s liaison to the program. “We are looking for people who really want to volunteer for emergency services,” he said. 

Law enforcement and other emergency personnel deal with some pretty tough situations, from highway accidents to home fires and sudden injury or death. Whether local people, seasonal residents, or tourists, the EMS staff are busy when these situations happen. The chaplain serves as the liaison between first responders and the injured party along with their family or friends, allowing the first responders to do what needs to be done. When people face a tragedy, they are likely to be confused and have lots of questions. The chaplain’s role is to help them understand the protocols that will be followed by officials for their particular case and to provide any aid and comfort they might require. 

Hillary Freeman, the first EMS chaplain for Cook County, says, “It’s important that we remember that we have two ears and one mouth. We help people process the incident and talk it out.” She added, “It’s not about being pastoral,” she adds. “It’s about being present.”

The Chaplain Program was started by Sheriff Pat Eliason in 2015.

Chaplains do a monthly “ride along” with sheriff’s deputies for a three to four-hour tour. This gives deputies and chaplains a chance to get to know each other. The chaplains provide a listening ear if deputies need to process recent events. 

At an incident, chaplains provide that listening ear to friends and family. The chaplain’s go-bag includes a book of resources for survivors that provides information on processes and resources that are likely to follow.

In the event of a community-wide disaster, think of the fire of April 12, 2021, that destroyed three businesses in downtown Grand Marais, chaplains are on hand to support emergency responders. On that particular day, which had very high winds making firefighting efforts difficult, the chaplains provided sandwiches and presence to support the firefighters through a long day and into the night.

To be a volunteer chaplain, people undergo an application process that includes a background check and fingerprinting. Before joining the program, volunteers attend a 2 ½ day training session put on by the Minnesota Emergency Chaplains Association. Training expenses are paid by the Sheriff's office. The training makes people aware of the protocols and understanding a bit of law enforcement culture.

Right now, there are four chaplains working with the sheriff’s office. Chaplains can expect to give 5-10 hours of time to the program each month. That includes a monthly meeting led by Deputy Running to share updates and review how things are going. 

Deputy Running says that chaplains need to be able to stomach some pretty tough situations. “They need to be empathetic, super personal, and have the ability to lead a conversation,” he said.

“We’re kinda like the Marines,” Freeman said. “We’re looking for a few good people,” 

If you, or someone you know, are interested in serving the Cook County community as an EMS Chaplain you are encouraged to reach out to Deputy Running to get your questions answered. He can be reached by email at or by phone by calling the non-emergency phone at the Law Enforcement Center, at 218-387-3030.