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Coping with a Traumatic Incident

With recent tragic incidents that occurred on Hawaii Island within the course of a month, the HIRSC team provides an in-depth look at how all tragic incidents affect our first responders and also how it affects the HIRSC team and the public. We also take a look at the coping mechanisms that the HIRSC team uses after a tragic incident.

We also take a look at how tragic incidents affect other first responders across the US.

6 Fatal accidents, 1 critical accident, 3 structure fires, search for a missing opihi, and many medical calls happened on Hawaii Island within the last 20 days, it not only takes a major toll on our Police Officers, Firefighters, Paramedics, and 911 Dispatchers with the Hawaii Fire Department (HFD) and the Hawaii Police Department (HPD) but also takes an emotional toll also on the members of the HIRSC team as well.

HIRSC Founder and Administrator Benjamin Agdeppa explain how the HIRSC team copes with tragic incidents, but we also take a more in-depth look at the emotional weight one incident can carry.

Ben says every day is different and you never know what will happen on any given day. While some days can be quiet and seldom, the next day can be overwhelming and out of control. While we read the story of a tragic accident, many truly don't see or hear the things that our first responders encounter.

Many first responders do not tell the stories of what happened on a day to day basis, many keep it to themselves, put it aside, and keep it within the walls of the police and fire stations. It's one of those hidden rules that you keep it at work and never bring it home. That similar rule is also implemented within the HIRSC team member community as well.

Ben says a lot of our first responders can encounter some gruesome situations on a daily basis. Situations that first responders can respond to on an everyday basis can include fatal car accidents, suicides, homicides, overdoses, cardiac arrests, patients who lost a body part, to people who have passed from natural causes within their own homes are out the many tragic incidents they can encounter. While community members will only encounter these scenarios maybe once or twice in their lifetimes, first responders on the other end, encounter one of these situations at least once or twice a week and it definitely comes with the emotional toll or weight on their shoulders. Incidents involving children can take a heavier toll, as many of our first responders have families at home and imagine as if it's one of their family members in many situations and can change the mentality of a call in an instant, making one of the harder incidents to comprehend and cope with.

Ben does agree, incidents involving children are one of the harder ones to cope with and also move away from as many members of the HIRSC team are also parents, aunts, uncles, or grandparents. When we hear the incident play out and the thought in our minds is: Are my kids safe? Who did they go with? What time are they expected to come home? Those are the many questions that come in their minds very fast, thus probably one of the reasons why it's just harder to understand and also again cope with. But overall all tragic incidents do put an emotional weight and burden on the HIRSC team as well.

That weight or emotional toll is called Vicarious Trauma and first responders more susceptible to it since they have first-hand accounts of a person's true fight for survivability or life. It's also true that our first responders have a higher rate of PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) than members of our community will after a traumatic situation. Rates are similar to military members have returned from a tour of duty. In recent years, many organizations around the US and including in Hawai'i have begun to take notice of the need for mental health support for our first responders and begun to implement programs to help ease the emotional burden and weight off of our first responders. While not easily recognizable among first responders, many agencies make it readily available for the members of their organization. But sadly, the implementation of these programs is too late for many others.

Unfortunately, every year many first responders around the U.S. ultimately become overwhelmed with emotions that are kept silent and ultimately end up taking their own lives in the end. That silence is something that many organizations and also family members are again working to end and ultimately working to prevent suicides among our first responders from happening.

While we are aware of the suicide rates of the general population, we also need to recognize that our first responders need the same support that the public receives as well as they are also member apart of our community.


So the question is asked how does the HIRSC team members cope with a tragic incident heard over the scanner?

HIRSC team is notified that a critical or tragic incident has occurred/been heard over the scanner and immediately thereafter, depending on the location of our moderator, we coordinate a video conference call and go into what is called a debriefing session, where during that period, all focus is turned away from scanners and turned towards understanding what had happened and helping the members affected cope with the situation heard or seen (if they witnessed or on scene covering the situation). A debriefing session is also initiated when a team member suffers personal tragedy as well. Coming together as a team to show support to our team member in their time of need or crisis.

Even after the initial session is initiated and completed, we continue to follow up with those team members to see how they are doing in the days and even months after the incident has occurred to ensure they are moving in the right direction.

Many times even after the debriefing sessions, members of our team will get together and go out on a round of golf, go out fishing, diving, hiking, baseball, dodgeball, or we gather together at a restaurant to help bring a sense that we all here to support each other and you're not alone. Some of our team members also go back to their religious beliefs and that helps out tremendously for many of our team members.

Ben says the main purpose of having the debriefing sessions and also getting together to outside of the scanners is to help mainly cope with the stress behind it and not to dwell on it. So it's important for the members of the team to see that we are all here to help in a time of need.

We have also helped a handful of our first responders and community members on Hawaii Island and in Southern Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and including parts of California over the past couple of years dealing with the stresses related to a tragic incident.

For our followers, if you are need of support or help, the HIRSC team is also available and here to help.

If yourself or someone you know is in need of emotional support and/or suffering from a mental crisis, please call 1-800-273-8255

You are not alone in this crisis and others are here to help in your time of need. You don't have to go through this alone.

Here's a video of training for the Hawaii Fire Department (HFD) uses to help provide the best service for our community and also how to overcome the stresses of the job.

Here's a story on Utah First Responders on the weight of a 911 call

Here's a video of how one organization in Minnesota is helping first responders cope with a difficult situation.

Here's a short film on the Marysville Fire Department and how they are working to help first responders during their time of a crisis.

Here's a video of firefighter personal encounter with mental health issues and suicide

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