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Home>Topics>>When a Child Dies on a Call

When a Child Dies on a Call

Tue, 10 Aug 2010|

In this free program from the Firefighters Support Foundation, Dr. Anne Bisek answers questions about what happens to first responders when a child dies on a call.



And first responders deal with -- quite a -- careers. By its very nature. How was it however that the death from a child it's a different. Well when a child dies. That coping mechanisms they usually use don't always work. For example dark humor if your first responders you've heard some pretty gross jokes and you told some pretty gross jokes. And that is really important way of coping. Some study. Deal 2000 Jones 1985. Talked about how dark humor serves dehumanized. Person of the deceased. From our own experience. So -- -- It's it's important that coping strategy but when a child dies it's almost impossible to crack. So without that great coping strategy. The death of a child is much more difficult then say the death of -- -- or somebody smoking -- Another wave emergency responders. React -- cope with. Events and their work is by relying on their training. They think they had their gear if they know what to do and a certain circumstance that they know CPR. They can do that technical rescue from under this building -- under this pile of rubble. That they can that they save some and they expect to use it. And when the victim as a child the expectation. Is almost greater to stated that -- And then counting on their training is not gonna work if the child is already dead before they got there. Another way emergency responders. React and cope with all the death in her job. It is by rationalizing. And by blaming the victim. And this is important coping strategy -- to make it through the end of your shift. It's important to be able to say that can't happen to me because I don't smoke -- I wear my seat belt. And that my child -- in a fire. Or when a child is restraint in the -- seat belt and still die. And that rationalizing. And -- -- that victim on is so much harder to do. Also. -- emergency responders have the expectation. That. Parents will protect their children. So when a child dies at the hands of their parent. That's -- much much. By the very nature of their jobs first responders expect to be able to help rescuers safe people. What happens to them when they can't do that child dies. Sometimes. -- first responder if they can't blame the child for it to death let's say it's distanced. They can't blame the parents. If they don't believe in god they can't blame god if there's nobody to blame sometimes emergency responders start -- blame themselves. So this sounds like. If I could've gotten there sooner I would've been able to fit that child. Or if IA would have wouldn't have been delayed in traffic we could have gotten there on time and I could've started chest compression. All are if I only had searched behind the tree I would have found the child and that child -- have bled to death. So if you can't blame -- a victim. And you can't blame god and you can't blame the parents sometimes that's what Merck what emergency responders do is magical thinking. Would it couldn't shut -- So when an emergency responder. Blames himself. For that child's -- Maybe a dispatcher is saying you know I could I couldn't have could hear the -- it. I would have been able to turn a different channel -- I could've gotten this equipment this. You know unit -- -- sooner and the -- starts to blame himself. For the person but the child's death. Then they start feeling like -- a failure like they're responsible for that child's death and that's extremely damaging to them. Dispatchers. Self concept the way they view themselves the way -- -- their performance on the job and it's an extremely. Big burden to carry. Not every first responders seems to be affected by the death -- -- -- at least on every time. What is it makes it different for one person Roberts is -- -- What makes it difficult is not. Built with the way the child died but it's when a cult becomes personal. For example. Let's say a paramedic. Had an experience -- summer camp where they almost drowned. A canoe flipped over and they almost strapped for example. If they then respond to. Call where an eight year old boy has drowned in the summer time. That me make that particular call personal for that paramedic. -- that paramedic might start having symptoms like nightmares and inability to concentrate. And -- irritability and Ryan and avoiding their fishing buddies and avoiding the lake. Because. They couldn't save the child that drowned. It connects to their past experience where they almost drowned at summer -- That makes the call personal. That's why that paramedic might react to that eight year old child drowning. And that person you know may be a police officer that was also on the scene are -- firefighter who responded later. Won't be as affected as the paramedic. Because the paramedic carries his baggage of his experience. Which makes it personal. What is it that makes call personal for first -- There are four ways that call can be made personal. Identification with the victim identification with -- on scene identification with the family constellation. Or identification with the suspect -- perpetrating. What do you mean by identification with the -- Identification with -- victim is a process where we -- Feel similar. Or think we're similar. To the person attacked. For example if you were in a car accident when you're young and you almost -- And you respond to a similar car accident in May be the same neighbor -- Maybe the child that has died. Is the same age as your child at home. Maybe it's -- sids death. And your wife is nine months pregnant. And what you mean by identifying with somebody -- Well on the scene of a child's death there might be a -- all our neighbor let's say. Let's say it's -- So. As sibling witnesses the death of their little brother -- their little sister. Perhaps the first responder is a police officer and when he was young his. Sibling. Was killed or even just abused by an alcoholic father for example. And witnessing. His younger brother or sisters. Abuse. Are witnessing. That younger brother or sisters demise. Makes this current -- all. Personal. Police officer in this example can identify with how helpless and how powerless. This sibling. Of a child that -- can feel in the current. You said something about identifying with the gambling what do you mean -- At first responders family. They grew up it may have been sent for example there might be a step parent involved. And a or there might be twins. -- first responder grew up in a -- with twins. And they respond to a family where one of the twins died. Or if the first responder has twins. And they respond to a situation where one of the twins has died -- can identify with the family constellation. Maybe an older grandparent. Was caring for an infant child who then -- it. And if that's the current. Crisis -- that's the current critical incidence. It may tie in to the firefighters experience where. My mother lives living with -- I wonder if she'd be able to handle this have something happened -- How is it that sort of X -- could identify with -- suspect or perpetrators just seems pretty pretty -- Let's say for example a firefighters responding to a car fire. And there -- some heavily loaded -- eased some red -- it. And a firefighter feels like he didn't get there in time to -- -- -- Let's add in that stepfather. Set the car on fire and killed his own his own stepped -- So the suspect is the stepfather. Now let's think this firefighter. Grew up in a family where his father or stepfather was alcoholic or abusive. And there's like domestic violence in the firefighters' family of origin. Still. He has here she has first hand knowledge of what abuse feels like. And what that chaos can feel like. -- the firefighter response to this current car fire which is arson. Which is murder which is -- perpetrated by this step by step -- Still. The firefighters. Logic is we didn't get there in time because in the RVs in the -- lights therefore I'm responsible for his death. That out -- I couldn't save him I'm responsible for his death. I feel like I had become my stepfather my father that was abusive and horrible when I was growing up. I might get a fine with that suspect that -- -- that actually killed the child in the car. Because we didn't get their time their -- -- the death of it's illogical thinking but it does happen. What are some ways it first responders respond to the death of a child. That are on healthier are not helpful. Well first would be isolation. Avoiding people's calls avoiding -- debriefing. Avoiding talking about it avoiding. Other people's you know reaching out -- not reaching out to the other other responders that were involved in a -- isolation is a killer. Solitary confinement in jail that's -- punishment. So win a first -- spotter starts to isolate. That's really unhealthy. Alcohol use. Alcohol use especially on the night of the trauma are the critical instant when a child has died. It's really compounds the -- it interferes with sleep it interferes with memory. Other unhealthy ways are pretending that it didn't affect -- Or expecting that. You can just pick up this dead child and put them -- -- today and go on with. Expecting not to be affected pretending like this is no big deal. That's really unhealthy. Okay then what are some healthy ways -- -- some productive things. First -- could do after they've had to go to one of these off calls. Some healthy ways to -- with the child's death. Is first by talking about it. Talking about -- two the other first responders that. Came on the -- talking about it to a Chaplin or showing up at the debriefing. Talking about it with your friends and family. Now every friend or family that you -- not going to be able to listen to gruesome -- If they let you would care about what's important your friends or family is how it affected. So if your first responder you might say. One -- -- really sad call today. Or. I went -- a really bad economy -- just think the world's an awful place and I'm just feeling discouraged. Aren't just. -- -- That's what's important is connecting with your friends and family talking to people that would understand you and how you react. Another great way to cope -- exercise especially -- out. Being able to at least get thirty minutes of running our fast walking on. After especially the night after that incident. Drinking lots of water. Good friend of mine from Los Angeles fire department she's also -- mental -- her line is. After critical -- you need to cry it out sweat it out European. And to do all those things you need to drink -- Going to the debriefing. Going to the defusing reaching out to other people. Not drinking on the night at the event. And getting exercise in as quick as you can -- is those are some really healthy ways to help. You mentioned exercised. What does exercise have to do with -- Their research is awful studies that compare exercise. To add to depressants. -- therapies. And actually exercise does pretty well. Exercise. Increases the amount of serotonin. In your brain. And don't work out that you get from thirty minutes or sixty minutes of -- out -- Basketball. Running jogging swimming. That cardiovascular work outs that you can do on the night -- a critical incident. Can boost the -- Tony chemicals in your brain which influence -- -- some other chemicals inhibit pain and some just make you feel. Is -- something wrong with me. If -- gone to one of these child death calls and I don't feel particularly affected that day your argument for weeks afterwards. You know psychologists often forget Tuesday. It's okay to be okay. Not every death of a child is going to affect. Every first responders the same way. That that particular call me not be personal for you may not be able to identify. With the family because maybe you don't have kids. Maybe yes and nieces and nephews but you don't have children of -- -- You may not be able to identify with their situation. You -- -- I'd be able to identify with this scene of the crime if it was a crime. It's really okay to be okay it doesn't mean there's something wrong with you if you're not having symptoms after this tragic. No first responders both men and women like to think like to think -- themselves and -- as -- and and macho. So what can we do -- first responders to -- ourselves up so we aren't so affected by the death of a child. Well welcome to being a human being. You can be effected by the death of a child. Because you're human. What brought you into this because profession is that you want to help people what brought you into this fashion is that you care. So our strength of the double side of our weakness. Right it's because you care that -- affect it. And not -- is a concept. That's training -- minute be prepared for this I'm gonna have mine here I'm gonna have my back up and get. It's you know set up the perimeter and everything what -- do tactically. But nothing's gonna prepare you for and buckling a child who's wearing the same -- -- that you're big you're -- wearing. Still how can you be inoculated. Or prepared. For something so personal. Most first responders will probably respond. To at least one death from a child during their careers. How long after that event. Can they expect to be affected by. These types of calls. Can affect a first responder for years. A friend of mine said -- -- mystery is optional. You can carry this burden and -- -- and this feeling of helplessness. Powerlessness. Our responsibility. For as long as you why not. Or you can get -- Or you can talk to some of your colleague who saw the scene that. Horrible accident that you -- or the saga same crime scene did -- -- it. You can talk to your ears you can talk to a chaplain. You can seek a therapist. It it it's optional. You don't have to carry this for years but -- some first responders do you. So far your comments have been mostly directed at the officers or -- partners and he's. Inspectors have had to deal directly. With these terrible incidents but giving advice here for the man staff. Yes it's the command staff's responsibility. To make sure their officers and their personnel are -- -- command staff really needs to check into those responders. Network -- the scene of the crime don't forget the dispatchers. That answered the call. Include them in the debriefing it's the command staff responsibility and make sure. Especially rookies if you know that this officer has never responded to a -- call. And you may need to tell that officer that CPR doesn't always work. And that kids is something almost unexplainable. You may have to explain to that officer that it's nobody's fault and that sometimes these awful things happen it. But that command staff needs to recognize and acknowledge that this is -- tough -- And don't pretend like it's not gonna affect your troops. And -- command staff needs to be able to provide resources. A pamphlet or listed peers that have been through similar situations. They need to be able to know where their. -- support team is located and where those phone numbers Iraq. And putting that officer that you -- -- -- their first it's cop. Putting -- officer together with somebody who has experienced that to help normalize the symptoms. And just acknowledged that that was a really difficult situation but there's there's help out there and that they don't have to suffer. So summing up -- respond to one of these terrible calls. What do you recommend he do now what got -- -- -- easily weeks what should I be doing. Attended the briefing. If it's offered even if you don't -- award attend the debriefing show up for the other responders who handle that -- as well. Talk to them about their experiences. Are they having some of the same symptoms nightmares. Inability to concentrate. That that type of thing. See if there suffering -- Talked to your family about it talked to attack. Exercised. Exercised the night. Death of the child and for a good week after. Some of these symptoms and responses are really normal. You wouldn't feel so bad if you didn't care so much. But don't wait so long don't let this. Call affect your marriage don't let that call. Affect the rest of your job duties don't let this -- interfere. With your hobbies your fishing. You're normal life you're nineteen year. Playing piano with your kids don't let it -- -- -- with the rest of your life.

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