On Feb. 20, 2003, the nation's fourth-deadliest nightclub fire occurred in the Town of West Warwick, RI, killing 100 people and injuring nearly 300. The emotional impact on the responding firefighters continues. Many will not discuss the incident; some still receive medical care. Legal...
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Rhode Island's Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) team was activated around midnight. Chief 1 required all firefighters debriefed by a CISM team member prior to being released from duty. A designated CISM rehabilitation area was established inside the CIR with three rescue crews assigned to rehab. Several fire department chaplains assisted. All Rhode Island fire departments, chiefs and union leaders were contacted after the incident advising of the availability of support in the form of defusing and debriefing sessions. Chiefs from several departments made CISM participation mandatory. CISM team members visited fire stations and conducted separate debriefing sessions for firefighters' family members. Five firefighters were physically injured, the most serious being a broken ankle.
A Providence Journal article stated when one first responder approached three co-workers at the scene, he said they wore the "thousand-yard stare" of horror. The emotional and psychological impact and resulting post-traumatic stress of responding to this incident cannot be measured.
WILLIAM F. ADAMS is a past chief of the East Rochester, NY, Fire Department and a former fire apparatus sales representative. He has 40 years' experience in the volunteer fire service. Part one was published in the November 2010 issue.