We were on a wreck recently where an individual had gone off the interstate going about 90 mph. He impacted a concrete drainage ditch and flipped several times before coming to a stop. After we got the patient into the ambulance and on the way to the hospital, I managed to capture one of my crew taking a moment to look back at what was left of the car. It brought recent events to mind.
It was brought to the department’s attention recently that one of the guys on the crew had a serious problem with some of the less desirable aspects of our work; the cleanup of bad car wrecks to be more specific. It bothered him to the point that he went to a psychiatrist. I was troubled that he not only was troubled by this enough that he went to a psychiatrist, but that he felt ashamed enough that he had to hide it from the rest of us. I guess it may be the mentality that comes with the perfusion (don’t show weakness, don’t falter, I have to set an example.), but it’s something that needed dealt with. My department has always provided the option to go see a psychiatrist if you wanted it but it’s obvious that that offer wasn’t being take up on, and we almost lost a good man because of it. In this line of work, there’s always going to be something that bothers you. Some of us take a moment to reflect while on scene, and some of us go home to talk to our spouses, but then there are some of us that don’t do anything and instead let it eat us up inside.
Everyone seems to take their own approach to dealing with these types of stresses, and many take more than one approach at a time. Studies have shown some of the most common ways that this was done many of which were found that were subconscious approaches.
Some of the personal efforts are:
Wait and Self- Monitor Changes in Evoked Reactions
Deliberately Let Time Pass
Rest and Relaxation
Deliberately Go Somewhere
Get Comfortable and Deliberately Relax
Find Physical and Verbal Relief
Deliberately Use Humor
Deliberately Release Feelings
Confide in Spouses
Have loosely structured discussions with colleagues
Re-establish Personal Routines and Sense of Subjective Control
Deliberately Take Charge of Your Life
Deliberately Re-establish Routines
In some of the more serious events where a department needs to step in it is recommended:
Mental Health Professionals Unilaterally Recommend Mandatory Attendance
Intervene Within 48 – 72 hrs
Convene Group Meeting and Commit Officers to Attend
Graded Confrontation of Memories of Critical Event
Deliberately Talk About Events In General Terms
Deliberately Avoid Some Reminders of Events
Adhere To Prescribed Agenda of Successive Protocol Stages.
Obviously not wanting it to get to the more severe situations; our department decided to take a more direct approach to this. We’ve always tried to do after action reviews but after our latest event we decided to make AAR’s, or critical stress debriefings mandatory after fatalities or mass casualties. I’m still not comfortable at these particular meetings but I feel it a necessary step, whether they are effective or not I guess only time will tell. I guess my purpose in sharing this is to encourage my fellow first responders and emergency personnel to pay attention to their colleges and themselves. If you notice stress starting to build up or if you need to just talk, do it; don’t try and hide it until it reaches a critical point.