When the 911 call was made about two children trapped under 24 feet of dirt at a construction site in eastern Lincoln County, more than 100 rescue workers from departments in several counties responded to help.
After 13 hours of searching, the bodies of Chloe Arwood, 6, and James Caldwell, 7, were found.
It wasn’t a typical call of responding to a heart attack, car wreck or house fire. Abnormal events like the one on April 7 can have as much of a long-lasting emotional and mental toll on rescue workers as it does for victims’ families.
In 2007, Lincoln County Fire Marshall Mike Futrell and crisis response expert Tina Brooks founded The Academy – National Institute for Crisis Response Training to equip crisis-response teams to tend to the emotional needs of first responders and citizens affected by traumatic events.
Tragic events, like the Boston Marathon bombing, the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion, the Virgnia Tech massacre or two children being buried under tons of dirt, can trigger an emotional reaction that has physical symptoms, Futrell said.
“The body has a natural resource to dump chemicals into the system when it is traumatized,” he explained. “Our goal as part of the team is not only to help them see these reactions and understand, but to understand how to work through them.”
Crisis response teams do this in two ways: being present as the event unfolds and following up in its aftermath.
Five crisis response personnel were deployed to the construction site while rescue workers earnestly dug. They worked between the victims’ family members and first responders, answering questions the family might have, keeping them informed and helping check vitals of first responders and providing a listening ear.
“It’s nothing like out of this world type conversation,” Futrell said of the on-site discussions between rescue workers and crisis responders. “But it’s just constantly checking on them, especially on a scene that goes from a few hours up to 14, 15 hours long.”
After a traumatic event, crisis response teams make themselves available to continue to assist first responders in coping with the mental and emotional affects. Formalized debriefings walk them through a seven-step process of making sense of what happened, Brooks said. They talk through what their role was, what kind of thoughts they had while working and the emotional reactions they experienced. First responders are also educated about some physical symptoms they may experience and receive useful techniques to work through them.
One-on-one discussions are also common to help first responders recoup.
These men and women are trained, Brooks said. Not every event is a crisis to them. The fact that two children died and that it was 15 hours long made this one harder.
People don’t understand that there are normal reactions to an abnormal event, she said. For example, flashbacks are normal, but if untreated can become problematic later on.
“If they don’t talk about it, a lot of times they’ll end up thinking there’s something wrong with them (and go in) a downward spiral instead of an upward spiral,” Brooks said. “We want an upward spiral. We call it post-traumatic growth. We hope that we foster post-traumatic growth.”
For more information, visit http://www.theacademy-nicrt.net/.