Counselors Continue to Help Charleston Pick Up the Pieces Following Tragedy

Before the ashes cooled at the Sofa Super Store, counselors at the local state mental health center had started an effort to help survivors. CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Memories of the Charleston 9 will live forever. They were husbands, fathers, brothers...

"No names are entered into a computer. No one can get into a data base and find out who received counseling," she said. "That's how committed we are to privacy . . ."

The state is picking up the tab for the first year, while the city will pay for the second year and beyond. The team also is trying to get grants.

The team doesn't wait for someone to walk in or make an appointment. They visit the various stations, and hang out. "Sometimes, we'll get a call after we leave. Sometimes, it happens before we leave the parking lot," Mishoe said. "We'll do whatever we have to do to get our foot in the door."

The biggest advocates come from clients themselves. Some have brought co-workers along or alerted counselors when they believed a friend needed immediate intervention.

A veteran firefighter said the team has been very helpful. "I couldn't get through this on my own. I'll do anything that's necessary. It's been an incredible program. You know there's a macho thing with firefighters. It takes something to admit you need help. You're not weak if you as for help; that's what I tell people."

Mishoe said he's proud to be part of the team that's so committed to helping the families and firefighters cope. "We're always available . . ."

For the counselors, it's been an education. Amanda Custer said she's learned a lot about the extended fire service families and the bonds.

A member of the team also was present when the Charleston firefighters participated in RIT training sessions. Hearing the "Mayday, firefighters trapped," triggered intense emotions.

"I think it was important for someone to be there. We were appreciated," Mishoe said, adding that trust is essential for the program's success.

As they learned in New York, the calls for assistance have been busy at times, and very slow as well. Certain events -- including the recent release of the review panel's report and retirement announcement of Chief Thomas -- resulted in more calls from those associated with the incident.

"We have seen the gamut of emotions: disbelief, distrust, anger, guilt. These are excellent firefighters who are constantly being scrutinized," Blalock said. "This is a proud department steeped in tradition."

Mishoe said the fire service continues to reach out to help those grieving in Charleston. Firefighters from Boston and New York have spent weeks at a time with the team.

As the first anniversary of the fire approaches, extra peers may be on hand to assist in keeping a close eye on the survivors. The team stands ready to listen and comfort.

"We're here," Mishoe said. "We'll do everything we can."