A dozen county first responders gathered Monday to discuss, and debrief from, two weekend wrecks that took the lives of four people.
Working the scene of such incidents can cause lingering emotional and psychological trauma for emergency responders.
Monday’s critical incident stress debriefing session took place at the Marion fire station.
Marion fire chief Chris Killough contacted the Mid-Kansas Incident Response Team in Newton after talking to county emergency manager Marcy Hostetler, who suggested resources to help emergency responders deal with stress from the ordeal of working the incidents.
Killough extended an invitation to all emergency responders who worked the wrecks.
Firefighters from Hillsboro and Marion, emergency medical technicians, police officers, and sheriff’s deputies attended.
Two team members came to Marion to work with the 12 emergency responders.
“Critical incidents” are traumatic for responders because they experience strong emotional reactions that have potential to interfere with their ability to function in work or daily life.
Even after an event is over, responders may experience emotional or physical reactions.
Killough said the voices of even “tough guys” broke when they talked about the wrecks.
“At the end, the guys said it’s sometimes very hard to get people to talk,” Killough said of the debriefing.
Killough himself feels better after the session.
“I’m not so tense,” he said.
He had never taken part in a critical incident stress debriefing before, although he said he had worked some scenes that a debriefing might have helped.
He expects he’ll still need to be patient with himself for a couple of weeks because of what he saw, but talking it out with people who understand was a tremendous help.
More emotional help for emergency responders was offered by Prairie View.
Sheriff Jeff Soyez commended the mental health agency for offering counseling services .
Police, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians can have lingering reactions to working especially tragic scenes.
They might quit their jobs or need professional assistance to deal with an event too powerful for them to manage by themselves.
Physical symptoms can include fatigue, nausea, muscle tremors, twitches, chest pain, difficulty breathing, elevated blood pressure, rapid heart rate, thirst, headaches, vision difficulties, vomiting, teeth grinding, weakness, dizziness, profuse sweating, chills, and symptoms of shock.
Cognitive symptoms can include blaming someone, confusion, inability to pay attention, making poor decisions, changes in alertness, poor concentration, hyper vigilance, changes in awareness of surroundings, poor problem solving or abstract thinking, loss of orientation to time and place or people, disturbed thinking, nightmares, and intrusive images.
Emotional symptoms can include anxiety, guilt, grief, denial, panic attacks, emotional shock, fear, uncertainty, loss of emotional control, depression, inappropriate emotional responses, apprehension, feeling overwhelmed, intense anger, irritability, and agitation.
Behavioral symptoms can include changes in activities, changes in speech patterns, withdrawal, emotional outbursts, suspiciousness, changes in usual communications, loss of or increased appetite, inability to rest, anti-social behavior, non-specific body complaints, pacing, intensified startle reflex, erratic movements, and changes in sexual function.
Spiritual symptoms can include anger or a sense of distance from God, withdrawal from church, uncharacteristic church involvement, sudden turns toward God, a sense of emptiness about familiar faith and church practices, a belief that God is powerless, a sense of isolation from church members, questioning of one’s basic beliefs, anger at clergy, loss of meaning and purpose, or a belief that the person has failed God.
Things that might be helpful include structuring time to keep busy, avoiding labeling themselves as “crazy,” avoiding numbing the pain with alcohol or drugs, reaching out to people, spending time with others, helping fellow responders by sharing feelings and checking hw they are doing, journal writing during sleepless hours, doing things that feel good, avoiding making big life changes, getting plenty of rest, and eating well balanced and regular meals.