CAMDEN—If a suspicious person walked in or someone became ill during Sunday Mass at your church, would you know what to do?
A group of volunteers at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Camden is learning how to respond to those situations and more thanks to a new program at the parish called Code Red.
Father John Zimmerman, church pastor, said the team will be part of an ongoing program of improving safety and security at the parish.
He first started a Code Red Emergency Response Team three years ago when he was pastor at St. Anne Church in Florence, and members of that group are helping him out now.
“I thought that the ministry was needed after I heard about parishes around the country that had their collections stolen or had people assaulted during Mass,” Father Zimmerman said. “We decided it would be important to have people present during Mass that could handle any situation that arose.”
Code Red volunteers learn to be observant and respond to a wide variety of situations in a calm and organized manner, Father Zimmerman said.
“The most important thing is for them to be able to learn to think clearly in the heat of the moment,” he said.
Members of the Camden program will also learn to respond to basic medical situations. Like the group in Florence, they will receive training in first aid, CPR and using an automated external defibrillator.
Code Red volunteers are currently present at all weekend Masses in Florence, but not at other parish events. Members wear bright red badges with a cross on them so they can be easily identified.
Debra A. Walters, director of the Code Red team at St. Anne, said they currently have 12 full-time members, including law enforcement professionals, a physician and a firefighter.
Volunteers are trained to deal with three types of situations: medical emergencies, severe weather, and “situational emergencies,” such as protesters or unruly visitors, Walters said.
In Florence, the team goes through 12 hours of training quarterly on topics such as medical training, fire safety, power outages, terrorist threats and more. They work with the theater department at Francis Marion University, which acts out various scenarios.
Walters said their training came in handy shortly after the program started,
A man had a medical emergency during Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve that year, and volunteers from Code Red were able to help him, keep others calm and call 911, all without the liturgy being seriously disrupted. The man went on to recover. Since then, she said the team has helped in at least 10 other medical situations that occurred during Mass.
“It’s better to be prepared for something that never happens and say we are ready, rather than have something happen we aren’t prepared for and have to say we’re sorry,” Walters said.