Who Helps the Helpers?

Yesterday was a reminder of just what a broken, fucked-up world we live in. Someone decided it would suit their purposes to detonate two bombs in area around the finish line of the Boston Marathon killing 3 people (including an eight-year-old boy) and wounding at least 176 others. We don’t know what those purposes are since no one has stepped up to claim responsibility and any speculation right now is pointless. But, I’m sure that won’t stop some asshole from politicizing it. Because what are few innocent lives compared to the opportunity to give someone I don’t like a black eye?

In what may be the most ham-handed segue ever, Let me say I lost count of the people who posted some variation of this picture on their Facebook page in the aftermath:

 Mr. Rogers

It never ceases to amaze me what a wise man Fred Rogers was. And, it appears a lot of that wisdom came from his mother. Imagine that.

For a long time, I was one of those helpers, spending 23 years as a firefighter in Raleigh, NC. In that time, I was the first on the scene at some pretty bad incidents, but nothing like this. I fall to my knees (figuratively, I’m not sure I could get back up if I did for real) and thank God that nothing like this occurred in my city during those years. Since 9-11, we trained for it, planned for it and thought we were ready for it. But, truthfully, you can never be ready for it. Oh sure, you can physically prepare; you can make all sorts of arrangements, have detailed incident action plans and get all your equipment in order. But, how do you prepare your mind, your spirit for such mass suffering?

Training helps more than anything. Because if you train hard enough, when the shit hits the fan, you can get some distance from that shit. You can disengage the part of your brain that gets overwhelmed by a throng of suffering, broken bodies. Hell, even the name for the situation provides distance: mass casualty incident. Those three little words don’t begin to convey the chaos, the pain, the terror that occurs when these kinds of things happen. While that distance is essential for on-scene operations, it doesn’t last. It’s like getting a bill you can’t pay right now and shuffling it to bottom of the pile. Eventually, it’s going to come due. And, there will be hell to pay.

There are tools to deal with this; post-traumatic stress debriefings, counseling, etc. And, they help…, some. There is something you can do, though. It’s easy to remember first responders after something like this happens, but these people do this day in and day out, usually without a lot of thanks. So, after all the uproar from this latest attack dies down, don’t forget that they need some love every day. A thank you goes a long way towards that. A nice cake or pie goes further, but a thank you will work.