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  • How do you cope?

    I am a new full-time firefighter on the job for less than 1 month. I start the Academy in 1 week.

    Last night was my first fatality. I was on our rescue truck, we were dispatched to an entrapment in a nearby volunteer territory, and upon arrival quickly found out it was a recovery. I caught a quick glance of the victim when we first arrived, fetched several tools, and ended up being put on "radio watch" because our handhelds would not work in the area where the vehicle was. Out of the 4 of us on the truck, I had it the easiest in terms of hands on contact with the victim.

    After we did our job and left, there was the expected downplaying and joking among us in the truck. I understand the job, understand I can only help after the accident, and am at peace with that. I have noticed my thoughts today have occasionally wandered back to what I experienced last night.

    I dealt with this incident by talking to my wife some. Our Battalion Chief also had a round table this morning to see where I was at after my first fatality, and gave some good advice.

    My question is what works for you? How do you keep it from really getting to you? What tips can you give from experience? I plan on doing this a long time, and I want to be proactive with this part of the job from the beginning.

    Thanks,

    Josh
    Last edited by JoshMM; 10-02-2010, 03:54 PM.

  • #2
    Originally posted by JoshMM View Post
    I am a new full-time firefighter on the job for less than 1 month. I start the Academy in 1 week.

    Last night was my first fatality. I was on our rescue truck, we were dispatched to an entrapment in a nearby volunteer territory, and upon arrival quickly found out it was a recovery. I caught a quick glance of the victim when we first arrived, fetched several tools, and ended up being put on "radio watch" because our handhelds would not work in the area where the vehicle was. Out of the 4 of us on the truck, I had it the easiest in terms of hands on contact with the victim.

    After we did our job and left, there was the expected downplaying and joking among us in the truck. I understand the job, understand I can only help after the accident, and am at peace with that. I have noticed my thoughts today have occasionally wandered back to what I experienced last night.

    I dealt with this incident by talking to my wife some. Our Battalion Chief also had a round table this morning to see where I was at after my first fatality, and gave some good advice.

    My question is what works for you? How do you keep it from really getting to you? What tips can you give from experience? I plan on doing this a long time, and I want to be proactive with this part of the job from the beginning.

    Thanks,

    Josh
    Talk to others in the Biz who have been through it before. Talking to family helps, but that's a world I didn't want to bring them into. After my first fatality, I actually came on here, and a couple members and I had a conversation that really helped me. Talk to an officer on your department, and consider CISD (Critical Incident Stress Debriefing). It doesn't make you any less of a man/firefighter. It helps a lot.

    The biggest thing that's helped me cope, and it's kind of a terrible thing, but you've got to look at it like a job, and not like a person. That's helped me immensely. You showed up, you did what you could, and you go home. That's really all you can ask for.

    Anyway you look at it, do NOT let it bottle up. It will eat you apart from the inside out. Talk about it, let it out, and you'll be far better off. It sounds like you're on the right track talking to your wife and your Battalion Chief.
    "A fire department that writes off civilians faster than an express line of 6 reasons or less is not progressive, it's dangerous, because it's run by fear. Fear does not save lives, it endangers them." -- Lt. Ray McCormack FDNY

    "Because if you don't think you're good, nobody else will." -- DC Tom Laun (ret) Syracuse

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Chenzo View Post
      Talk to others....
      ..... but you've got to look at it like a job, and not like a person. That's helped me immensely. You showed up, you did what you could, and you go home. That's really all you can ask for.
      Remember, you went there trying to help someone and do some good. If an accident you didn't cause it. If a fire, you didn't start it...Stuff happens.

      Good Luck

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by JoshMM View Post
        I am a new full-time firefighter on the job for less than 1 month. I start the Academy in 1 week.

        Last night was my first fatality. I was on our rescue truck, we were dispatched to an entrapment in a nearby volunteer territory, and upon arrival quickly found out it was a recovery. I caught a quick glance of the victim when we first arrived, fetched several tools, and ended up being put on "radio watch" because our handhelds would not work in the area where the vehicle was. Out of the 4 of us on the truck, I had it the easiest in terms of hands on contact with the victim.

        After we did our job and left, there was the expected downplaying and joking among us in the truck. I understand the job, understand I can only help after the accident, and am at peace with that. I have noticed my thoughts today have occasionally wandered back to what I experienced last night.

        I dealt with this incident by talking to my wife some. Our Battalion Chief also had a round table this morning to see where I was at after my first fatality, and gave some good advice.

        My question is what works for you? How do you keep it from really getting to you? What tips can you give from experience? I plan on doing this a long time, and I want to be proactive with this part of the job from the beginning.

        Thanks,

        Josh
        I have always tried to think of it like this: I am called to help in any way I possibly can, but there is no such thing as "saving" a life. I believe in God, and truly believe that what God has in store for you will ultimately happen. Whether good or bad. I try to remind myself that I can only help to the extent that the Lord will let me. And if he chooses to take someone, there is no medicine, tools, or equipment strong enough to take that person from his hands.
        Last edited by JayburgeyENG25; 10-02-2010, 05:14 PM.

        Comment


        • #5
          You have to learn to focus on your training and experience. Unfortunately, you don't have a lot of that yet, but it will come. After a while, this unpleasant tasks will be easier to handle.

          Don't try to bottle it up, as Chenzo stated. We are all human and have different ways of handling the stuff we deal with. You'll find the best way for you. But don't try to tought it out.... talk it out with your co-workers. If that doesn't seem to cover it, ask for CISD as mentioned.

          Kids will always be tough for me, as they are for most people. It was much tougher when my own were young, but it really doesn't get easier. My very first fire was a two story home where we lost 5 kids. That was very difficult and almost made we walk away from this job.

          Don't let yourself ever feel like you failed to someone when the odds were stacked against their survival. You can't fail when there is no hope.

          Just hang in there brother. Time is on your side.

          PK
          HAVE PLAN.............WILL TRAVEL

          Comment


          • #6
            Josh: Remember that we are there to mitigate a hazard and to help people in their worst moments.
            We cannot change many things. Your "First fatal was a preordained incident of this type. They were already dead prior to your arrival and nothing you or your crew could do will change that.
            Many of the calls we do are for recovery work or to remove a victim from entrapment or drownings or other life threatening illnesses. Sometimes we cheat the grim reaper and most times we don't.
            As everyone else has stated talk to others about how your feeling about that call and learn to understand how to deal with these emotions. It is a normal reaction for you to have some feelings seeing your first "fatal".

            We all went through it at some point in our careers. Some will never leave your mind and others will be gone from your brain before the shift is over.
            It is a normal stress reaction that we in Emergency services have to deal with on an all too frequent basis.

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            • #7
              Rule 1. NEVER take your work home with you. Not trying to sound cold, but I do not take what happens on the job home. It's apart of the job that you have to learn to accept is going to happen and move on.

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              • #8
                I'm not so sure about that Tony.....sometimes it is good to take some parts home....BUT if they are a learning/positive experience.....I am lucky enough to have a husband who is also involved in the fire service, and both of us do occasionally bring work home to talk about....but that is ok - because we both know what the other one is going through.....

                As for a first fatal....I still remember mine although it was close to 20 years ago now.....call came in for a working fire right down the street from my boyfriends' house.....we pulled out of his driveway to be met by another neighbor on the phone also calling the fire in.....it was an old bungalow that an old man lived in ...I used to see him every day walking up or down the street.....anyway - he was trapped and perished in the fire, and I helped carry him out for the coroner.....

                What really helped me with that fire was an English Comp/Lit class I was taking - we had to write a short story and I wrote about this person dying in the fire.....it really helped to 'heal' me and let me put it off to the side and behind....will I ever forget it? Probably not.....do I want to? again, probably not - for every thing that happens in our lives- there is some reason I believe.....a lesson, learning experience, reminder of our own mortality.......

                Talk about it, don't bottle it in, if you don't feel comfortable talking to people you work with, there is the CISD teams, or even a priest.....

                Coming here is another way - as someone else posted.....

                Comment


                • #9
                  And don't fall for the macho crap that some try to spew about. Stuff affects each and every one of us, it is nothing to be embarressed about.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I believe there are 3 phases of dealing with deaths in the fire/ems business.

                    1) Your first one or few, you carry them because they are new to you. They weigh on you. They may be with you for years because that memory is implanted in your brain.

                    2) You have seen more than your first few and you become more aclimatized to the fact you will see and deal with death in this job. You are not a loof to it but perhaps a little more case hardened to one of the realities of the job.

                    3) You have seen too much and are suffering stress from it. It may manifest in any manner of ways.


                    You learn to deal with it by talking to your fellow firefighters. By developing your own coping mechanisms. I disagree with not sharing with your family or loved ones. It is possible to share the incident and your feelings about it without getting into gory details. My fiancee is a Med Tech in asn ICU unit and talking about my job and stressors and her talking about hers is a great stress reliever.

                    Don't be too hard on your self for having feelings or concerns about the incident. I can still close my eyes and picture the first fatality I experienced as an emt. It has not stopped me from doing my job or got in my way on particulrly nasty incidents.

                    Good luck.
                    Crazy, but that's how it goes
                    Millions of people living as foes
                    Maybe it's not too late
                    To learn how to love, and forget how to hate

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Tony4310 View Post
                      Rule 1. NEVER take your work home with you. Not trying to sound cold, but I do not take what happens on the job home. It's apart of the job that you have to learn to accept is going to happen and move on.
                      Good for you. Most of us can't. Both my current wife and ex-wife are/were extremely supportive of me and what I do at work (and the volunteer house for that matter), and not only wanted to hear about my day at work, they knew they could be there for me when there was a bad call, etc.

                      Not sure how long you've been doing it, but I've certainly done it long enough to accept death and move on to the next thing, whether it's another call or getting back to the bar-be-que sandwich I left on the kitchen table. However, there are some calls that are tough and you want to be able to reach out to your loved ones for support.

                      Now, back to the OP's post, much of what's been written here is spot-on. Talk to your co-workers, come here, talk to your family. Do NOT leave it inside. The acceptance of death and fatalities comes easier with your time in the fire service. Those with many years in the fire service will attest to this. Paladin Knight's experience must have been very tough as a probie, but though various means, he worked through it and now serves as a fire chief.

                      Don't give up, and don't be afraid to seek guidance when you need it.
                      Career Fire Captain
                      Volunteer Chief Officer


                      Never taking for granted that I'm privileged enough to have the greatest job in the world!

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        talk with the guys you work with, they'll help you out.

                        I'm on the side of the fence saying don't take it home, the last thing I need is for my family to know about all the blood, guts, and crap I see. Just hearing about the individual situation might bother them and the thought of all the death/dying might weigh on them. Just one view point though

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by nameless View Post
                          I'm on the side of the fence saying don't take it home, the last thing I need is for my family to know about all the blood, guts, and crap I see. Just hearing about the individual situation might bother them and the thought of all the death/dying might weigh on them.
                          I should probably qualify my earlier statement by saying that in my case, both my wife and ex had fire service experience, so they could relate what I was telling them.
                          Career Fire Captain
                          Volunteer Chief Officer


                          Never taking for granted that I'm privileged enough to have the greatest job in the world!

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Brother, first off, welcome to the greatest job you'll ever have.

                            That said, there is a downside to our job, and you have experienced it. Everyone needs to find their own way through it. But whatever you do, if you have feelings about it, confront it. Do not bury it down inside- it will destroy you.

                            In 14 years of firefighting, the only ones that ever got to me involved children. For some reason adults don't mess with my head.

                            Here is my method. (1) You did not cause their condition. (2) You are there to give that person the best possible chance they have to making it to tomorrow. (3) If they pass, and you did your job right, it was just there time. At least you were there to treat that person with dignity and respect.

                            In Iraq, we viewed anything that was a threat as a target, no longer a person. Cold hearted, but it worked. Now as a fireman again I relate the same, just treat the body with the respect and dignity it deserves, but no longer a person- they are gone.
                            ~Drew
                            Firefighter/EMT/Technical Rescue
                            USAR TF Rescue Specialist

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I remember my first one like it was yesterday.

                              A guy and his fiance' had rolled their vehicle on the highway. We got on scene and state patrol was already there. One officer was holding back the hysterical fiance' as she is screaming for him not to leave her while another officer was in the process of CPR. We did our thing, but lost the guy. Later we found out that he was just back from being deployed and they were on their way to pick out rings.

                              Only thing that I can add to the great advice that others have already posted is to do what feels right. I talked with my partner, really experienced guy, for a bit afterwords (maybe 15 mins). But on others since I have sat and talked to guys for hours. Maybe they needed it, maybe I did or maybe both. Don't force anything, just trust your gut. Your mind has a way of telling you what it needs if you listen to it. Probably what led you here to post in the first place. Go with it.

                              Stay safe Brothers
                              Nothing is as unimpressive as someone who is unwilling to learn.

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