First responders sometimes seek counseling after traumatic calls | KPAX.com | Missoula, Montana
MISSOULA- No matter how well they're trained, some first responders say nothing can prepare them for the death of a child.
Some described las weekend's double fatal crash near Clinton as "horrific." An 8-year-old Seattle boy was killed and the rest of his family was hospitalized. The suspected drunk driver also died on the scene, and investigators believe he drove the wrong way on I-90 for about five miles before crashing into the family of four.
"The scene that morning-it was quite chaotic," says Sergeant Tony Rio of the Missoula County Sheriff's Office. "When we learned that there was an 8-year-old boy involved it was just so much harder on the guys, especially the guys that have children, that have families."
Emergency workers know the trauma families experience when they lose a loved one, and sometimes it's the small things that matter so much. "I was giving myself tasks picking up the kid's shoes, their backpacks, their fishing poles, their little walkie-talkies, stuff like that-making sure that that got back to the parents," Rio said.
And while they might look calm and collected, it's what's inside that might cause some first responders to lose sleep. "We don't want to have to deal with any fatal crashes, but you throw in the innocence of a child and it just can really take a lot of toll on the troopers," Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Richard Hader explained.
"The reason they're in the job is that they care about people. They want to make a difference and there are some situations that you can't make a difference and those are the things that are painful and frustrating," says Missoula County Sheriff's Office Chaplin Chuck Lee.
Lee helps deputies and other first responders deal with emotional trauma. He says sometimes just talking about it will help, other times first responders will meet with him one-on-one, or they'll attend a confidential critical incident stress debriefing group to talk about what happened.
"When they're having the worst nightmare type place, I want to be there to help them to work through that," said Lee. "You think they're tough, they're trained, they know what they're doing, but they're still people."
"Every one of us knows that when we walk out that door in the morning that we might not be coming back, but we kind of lose focus sometimes on that and it drives it home more so when we end up on a fatal crash," Hader said.
"Most of us go through our life and don't think about anything like that and then all of a sudden it's thrust upon you. Even though you may be aware that it might be coming, it's still a huge emotional shock," said Lee.
Every first responder copes with emotional trauma in a different way and Lee says he tries to make sure that coping mechanism is mentally and physically healthy. Lee also says that in some cases emergency workers will go to counselors in the community so they can help them cope with the tragedies that they witness.