They are the first of the first responders to reach the scene.
You can hear something in the tone of the first few seconds of their first update transmitted from the scene. No matter how polished and professional they may be just a hint of adrenalin sneaks into that practiced radio voice.
And sometimes the first one to arrive is a raw rookie with lots of heart and booksmarts but precious little time dealing with life-threatening emergencies in real life.
The call was dispatched as a possible car crash. The caller heard something strange in the woods up the road. “It sounded like an impact with a tree. It might be nothing but I’ve got a bad feeling. It’s awfully sloppy out there tonight. Do you think you could send a crew to check it out?”
And so the call comes out as a possible car crash. No word on injuries. No details on what type of vehicle may be involved.
Three fire/rescue crews leave the station en route to the call. One of the firefighters lives just up the road from the reported location and so he heads to the scene on his own in his personal vehicle.
His mates on the firetrucks are still ten minutes out when the first first responder arrives on the scene.
He attempts his first update. “Damn. We’re going to need the Jaws… they’re all….” His voice breaks just as the transmission breaks into intermittent static.
Another prolonged burst of static with no voiceover.
“Firefighter Smith, do you have an update?”
“Uh..this is Firefighter Smith…it’s a passenger van that’s gone off the road, rolled over and hit a big tree. There are five occupants who were completely ejected, three who were partially ejected, and four who are still inside the wreckage. They’re all unconscious. All of them.”
“Firefighter Smith, can you confirm? There are 12 victims at the scene and they are all unconscious?”
“I confirm 12 victims that I can see. I can’t get all the way inside the wreckage without causing further injury to the occupants trapped underneath the van. There might be more victims.”
Raw rookie gone straight to hell.
When the responding Captain calls in with an initial size-up from the scene he declares a Mass Casualty Incident, requests a two-alarm EMS assignment, and finishes up by asking that the COPE Team respond to the scene because he’s got at least one firefighter who’s already in a world of hurt.
You can hear it in their voices.
You should learn more about Critical Incident Stress by visiting the Tema Conter Memorial Trust online at http://www.tema.ca
Be well. Practice big medicine.