Nobody wants to meet Leslie Montgomery or Rich Carbone on the job. It usually means someone died or something bad is unfolding.
But in a crisis, Montgomery or Carbone — or any of the other local police or fire chaplains — can be just the person you want.
The Tacoma-Pierce County Chaplaincy recently honored both — Montgomery as the Chaplain of the Year and Carbone for his 40 years of service.
Chaplains work with local law enforcement and fire departments to serve and counsel the public and the agencies’ employees.
Of the 35 members of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chaplaincy, all but four are volunteers, unpaid and on-call for emergencies at all hours of the day or night.
The 6-year-old boy had recently lost his father and Montgomery had helped him deal with the loss.
He did have one last question: In a note written to Montgomery’s sergeant, he asked whether Leslie could have the next day off to come and play.
Montgomery, 33, works extensively with youths. Before becoming a volunteer Tacoma police chaplain five years ago, she worked for seven years in several parts of the country with Young Life, a national youth ministry.
Back then, she said, “I found myself in situations often where kids were in crises, dealing with domestic violence, child abuse, drugs, gangs, family dysfunction.
“One kid even overdosed at the school I was at in 2009.”
In addition to helping kids deal with their traumas and griefs, she assisted with the funeral for the youth from her old school.
Tacoma police chaplain Russ Guppy was helping out at the service.
“I had often found myself in situations requiring police or fire with kids who needed an adult around,” Montgomery said, “So basically I was like — ‘Hey, Russ, how do I make this official?’ ”
So far this year, Montgomery has worked with 40 children who lost a parent. She sits with them and talks, helping them through the grieving process.
The job brings many challenges, but many rewards as well, she said, adding that God helps her persevere.
“Sometimes we meet people on the worst day of their life,” she said. “Even on hard, difficult calls, you can walk away feeling like you just made a difference, even a small difference.”
Every call is different and chaplains can’t always anticipate what will need to be done, she said.
“You may have your tool box or ways you think you are going to respond,” she said. “But I’ve given up on trying to prepare myself and just figure when I get there that God will have to make use of me.”
Another big aspect of the job is working with the police department, said Montgomery, who often rides along on patrols.
“I get a unique insight into the countless ways the officers do good, reach out and don’t ask for any recognition,” she said.
Montgomery said she was honored and humbled to be named Chaplain of the Year.
“A lot of chaplains operate in that capacity of life and death and joy,” she said. “A lot of people do really good work and a lot of people are making a difference.
“The important thing is the difference more than who’s making it.”
No one has served longer with the Tacoma-Pierce County Chaplaincy than Carbone.
“He’s a full-time pastor as well and has been at volunteer capacity all these years,” Guppy said. “He’s a wonderful man.”
Carbone, 66 , became a chaplain in the mid-1970s, volunteering with Tacoma police. He then served at University Place Fire Department and now is at West Pierce Fire and Rescue.
When he started, the chaplaincy was looking for pastors who had time to do on-call services for the police department.
Carbone signed up.
Some officers needed time to get used to the new program, he said.
“Some of the officers at first didn’t know what to do with us,” he said. “They would use us to give death notifications, work with homicides and different issues where people are dealing with the shock of losing a loved one or other traumatic experiences.”
He said they quickly realized it was useful to have chaplains handy.
“Having an on-scene counselor there to help them through that made the officers available for what they needed to do,” he said. “They were more able to handle the legal matters and turn everything else working with the people over to the chaplain.”
He has primarily counseled people with traumatic stress or traumatic injuries, or those getting death notifications.
“People with pastoral training are more able to deal with people in those crises situations,” Carbone said.
The biggest challenge in his work, he said, is not knowing how a person will react in such situations. Sometimes that involves waking a family member in the middle of the night to give them bad news about a loved who’s died or been killed.
“Everybody responds differently under trauma,” he said.
For Carbone, “having to make a death notification when a child is involved — those are really tough.”
But helping someone deal with a crisis makes his job rewarding, Carbone said.
“That’s what the Lord has told us we should do — love your brother,” he said.
Carbone is a pastor at the non-denominational Cornerstone Life Church in Tacoma. Being a chaplain, he said, keeps him from focusing solely on one group of people.
“Too many times as pastors we get caught up in local flocks and our local ministries,” he said. “We lose touch with the public.
“Through chaplaincy, it keeps us aware that there’s a whole lot of people out there in need, and if we can help them in their need, that fulfills what we as ministers need to do.”
Sometimes his colleagues need attention as well, Carbone said.
“First responders experience more stress in a month than people experience in a lifetime, and there’s a cumulative effect on people when constantly dealing with death and trauma and crises,” he said. “It impacts them emotionally and spiritually.
“We try to be available for staff who need direction, we try to point them in the right direction or get them to somebody who can help.”
His relationship with the Lord keeps him on the job, and he’s not planning on quitting any time soon, Carbone said.
As long as they need me and can use me,” he said, “I will be available.”
For their service
The Tacoma-Pierce County Chaplaincy recently honored these local chaplains:
Chaplain of the Year: Leslie Montgomery, a volunteer chaplain with Tacoma police Department for five years.
The Above and Beyond Award: Mike Boisture, chaplain with Puyallup Police Department for about eight years.
The Steadfast Award: Ray Clark, chaplain for the Graham Fire District for about eight years.