We often hear stories about firefighters putting themselves in harm’s way while performing rescues or some equally heroic activity and suffering some life-altering injury in the process. More often than not, the cause for those physical injuries or illnesses is not associated with those more high profile made-for-television productions such as Chicago Fire. It’s the day-in-day-out activities such as lifting patients, pulling hose lines, and training evolutions that are at the root of most injuries.
What is far more insidious and debilitating is the accumulated emotional toll exacted on our emergency medical personnel, law enforcement officers, and firefighters.
I realize this is unpleasant, but imagine for a moment that you were one of the firefighters that entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, last December to render medical aid to the scores of victims who became target practice for a madman. The scene laid before you, as you entered the school building, would have to be so horrific, as to be mind-numbing. It is fortunate that the mass causality incidents involving children as so few and far between. The firefighters and police officers in Newtown, Connecticut, will be subject to many hours of Critical Incident Stress Management (CSIM) over an extended period to assist them with the necessary coping skills to deal with this unmitigated tragedy.
On a far more frequent basis the members of your fire department are called upon to handle critical injury responses involving children when only one or two might require treatment as opposed to a mass casualty incident . January 24th was such a case for your firefighters at Fire District No. 1.
Two companies from Station 17 located on Brownswitch Road, a Battalion Chief (Paramedic), and the Deputy Chief (Shift Commander) responded to a 10-month old child accidentally backed over by a car driven by the father. A nightmare scenario that simply defies humankind’s ability to express the profound pain that gripped the hearts and souls of everyone on the scene. In spite of these gut-retching circumstances our guys had a job to do and, as they always do, performed in an exemplary manner. The professional, workman demeanor that was in evidence as they about their attempts to treat the child were driven by their extensive training and experience that allowed them to conduct their business in a calm, quite, composed manner.
While what they did at the scene and the manner in which they did are a source of great pride for any Fire Chief, it’s what took place in the firehouse once they returned, that provided me with a sense of respect and emotion that makes everything else wane by comparison.
As they went about restocking their trucks with emergency medical supplies and preparing to respond to the next call for help, they were joined by at their firehouse by our Chaplin, Dr. Larry McEwen. We are very fortunate to have someone of Chaplin McEwen’s training and background to be our first line in our Critical Incident Stress Management (CSIM) process. Chaplin McEwen recognized immediately the “feeling in the air” and started the CISM process; however, not before the firefighters stood in the middle of the dayroom, joined hands, and prayed aloud for the child and for the parents, who will have a lifetime of to deal with the overwhelming emotions of the loss of the child.
It was at this point, that I truly recognized how proud I am of those firefighters, this fire department, and my beloved Fire Service. Their prayers were for the child, family, and parents; not for God to help them cope with the emotions with which they were dealing. Again and again, what they did was for others.