Doing a Good Deed at the Site of the 2005 Los Angeles Train Crash
By Rabbi BZ Kravitz
On January 26, 2005, I received a call from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department requesting that I respond to the Metrolink train crash. I have been a Police Chaplain for more than a decade. My training includes First Aid, CPR, Peer Counseling and Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management. It was this latter skill, in particular, that was put to use when I arrived on scene.
It was 3 pm when I arrived at the Glendale Police Department. I was impressed by the well coordinated effort that was in place to assist the families of victims and those still missing. It was determined that my services would be best utilized at the crash site to offer emotional support to Police, Fire and Search and Rescue personnel.
I was transported to the scene in a police car with red lights flashing and immediately reported to the Command Post located in the Costco parking lot. I was then deployed within feet of the most devastating site of the train derailment.
At this point the operation was primarily search & rescue. A large fire department heavy rescue vehicle had been deployed to remove large pieces of the train, in an attempt to search for individuals who may have been buried under tons of debris. The mood was somber yet hopeful.
On a personal note, I was struck by the enormity of the devastation and how it resembled terror attacks in Israel. Shaken from my thoughts, I became transfixed on the spectacular response of the Glendale and Los Angeles Fire Departments. As debris was removed they repeatedly rushed in with lights and special cameras to search for survivors.
My green and yellow “Raid Jacket” clearly identified me as a Police Chaplain. Individuals from a variety of agencies acknowledged their appreciation of my presence during this extremely stressful operation. For my part, I offered words of prayer and encouragement, especially to members of a federal agency who were awaiting news of a missing relative of one of their co-workers.
Then it happened. A cry went out that they had discovered the body of the eleventh victim. As her body was carefully removed by the Los Angeles County Coroners and Medical Examiners, you could feel a new air of sorrow descend upon the rescue site. I rushed to their side and requested that they pause for a moment so that I could recite a short prayer. Not knowing the victims identity or religion, I offered a prayer that was respectful of all faiths. When I opened my eyes, I was moved by the scene of numerous individuals who had joined in the prayer with heads bowed.
It was a traumatic moment when acquaintances were asked to identify the body. I must commend the rescuers and medical examiners for the dignity and respect they showed this victim who had been horrifically disfigured by the enormity of the collision.
I stayed on scene until midnight. Throughout the evening, rescuers and police approached me with words of gratitude. I thanked them and explained that Chaplains are here to “serve those who serve and protect.” I know that I speak for most people when I say that it is these heroes who once again deserve our heartfelt thanks and admiration.
Rabbi BZ Kravitz is a crisis counselor and chaplain for several police agencies. He is proficient at scuba diving and martial arts. Rabbi Kravitz is the founder of Be-True.org and Jews for Judaism International, a non-profit organization that promotes critical thinking in response to deceptive cults and missionaries
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