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.
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.
Originally Posted by JoshMM
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.
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.
Originally Posted by Chenzo
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.
Originally Posted by JoshMM
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.
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.
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.
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.....
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.
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 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.
Originally Posted by Tony4310
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.
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
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.
Originally Posted by nameless
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.
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
I believe in "don't take your work home with you" only as far as not bringing home work-related problems and sitting at home worrying about them, working on them, or whatever, in a way that it excludes and alienates your spouse. However, at least for me, I do believe in discussing your problems and concerns, things that are troubling you, with your spouse. That's one of the benefits of being married, in my opinion: you always have someone to talk to, someone to help you get through it, whether it's work-related or not.
Originally Posted by Tony4310
But I can see that this might depend on one's spouse and one's relationship with one's spouse.
Originally Posted by FiremanLyman
Then I go home and pose in my underwear in front of a full length mirror.
Pretty much what everyone else has already said - let it out.
Very often when we have a bad call we'll call in the CISD team. Only those who were on the call can attend the session. Because we work a lot with other departments, several agencies may well be involved.
One thing that seems to be a major factor is that every responder has seen something a little different. Hearing each responder relate their insight on the call helps everyone put the entire incident in perspective.
Another important thing about such debriefs is that people discover that they aren't the only one who feels the way they do.
It doesn't take a formal CISD to accomplish this - sitting around a table at the station can have the same effect.
As some have noted - at some point you may become a little jaded - but sometimes that's not a bad thing.
A dose of humor never hurts too. :D
Originally Posted by snowball
We see a lot. Its true... we get the close up view that everyone slowing down on the highway is trying to see.
Its funny, when I was younger and new it didn't bother me as much as it does now. I think having children softens you a bit, I know it has for me.
How to cope? Well, I'll be honest. Everyone is different. I went to a "debriefing" once and hated it. I saw people crying and carrying on that were barely involved in the incident. It wasn't for me. I have never gone to another one.
After one of the worst fatal fires I ever responded to, I went to my (now) mother in law's house and hung up three smoke detectors. She had none and I didn't want my girlfriend (now wife) to be in a house without them. Made me feel good, took my mind off it.
Most of us are "do-ers", we like "doing" something. That is what has helped me the most. It could be something as simple as washing a firetruck, cleaning out my shed, fixing something around the house, etc.
My brother and father are on the FD and being able to kick things around with my brother always helped. The good part was not having to go through every detail, he knew the details. It was good to just chat about it. Nothing too heavy, just simple talk about it.
Sitting around and thinking about it makes it worse, thats for sure.
I can tell you that you won't ever forget the things you see, but you can learn to live with them.