Death is something that is always around emergency services. Emergency services sees it so much, and may meet death if things go wrong on a scene.
When I teach class, I say "Thank you for joining emergency services, now is the time to say goodbye to the age of innocence. We see things that the public does not want to see, or even know what happens." After that statement is made, we start teaching them about critical incident stress management and other ways to handle stress, as well as resources that are out there.
Death is all around emergency services and it is something that all emergency services has to deal with. We deal with those who die in a fire, car crash, someone who has a heart attack or other medical call, someone who has taken their own life, a child or an elderly person that dies, etc. But this also may be the public, or from the emergency responder’s family, or the family of emergency services. Sometimes it may seem like too much. Death does not discriminate. Sometimes emergency services may experience many deaths in a short amount of time from different parts of their lives.
Death is a part of life, not always a good part. When someone has been suffering, it is said that they experience pain no longer. When it is quick, at least they did not feel any pain. Death cannot rule our lives. Responders need to work on how they will process the different deaths. Each death will hit a responder a different way.
Emergency services may or may not get used to how much is seen. When I worked my first shift in EMS, within the first five minutes I met death. Some people get accustomed to dealing with death of a client, to the point that when they see a bloody scene, they may think of what they are going to have for dinner. Other people may not be able to finish the rest of the shift. But one thing that we all have in common is that we all must deal with death.
People cope with death in many ways. Some people may use firehouse humor to help them lessen the blow. But some others may think about death a little more. Maybe the person reminded us of a family member, or was a family member. Maybe the person was someone that we have worked alongside of for many years. Maybe when we see one particular face of death, we may think about our own mortality.
We know that if someone in emergency services die, we put the mourning band over our badge, lower the flags to half-staff and put bunting on the station. Some other companies may have their own traditions, but most of us mark the day and have the flags lowered for 30 days. There are other traditions that may arise at different stations to say goodbye to an emergency responder.
When a child dies, it hits hard. An innocent child. When emergency responders have a call with a child, the pace gets quicker, they work harder and pull out all the stops. The death of a child or children effect emergency responders harder. Some of the people that have been portrayed as the rock may be effected more.
But emergency services is not exactly a safe occupation. Death is all around us and on certain calls we can almost see the Grim Reaper standing in the shadows as the emergency responders are trying to do the best work that is able to be performed.
Many emergency services wear the Class A uniforms more for funerals than anything else. The black mourning band may seem to be over the badge for so long. Sometimes it may feel like joy will never come because there is so much in common. One fire chief told me that, “One thing we all have in common is death".
Each one of us needs to think about the way that we work with death. It is not an easy subject to talk about, but we can also make things easier for when it is our time to die. Think about a will, prearranging your funeral services, insurance, discussing if you are an organ donor, etc. Sometimes people say the best way that they want to die is quietly in their sleep.
What resources do you have to deal with seeing so much death? Do you have a chaplain to talk with? A counselor? The crisis team? Do you have friends to talk with, or that will mourn with you? Job, when he lost everything, his friends came over and spent time with him. They sat there for seven days, just being present and not saying a word. But they were there for him. Are you there to help someone with death, even if it is by just sitting there?
Let us also remember to celebrate life. Tell your loved ones that you love them, let them hear those three words. Yes, love is a four letter word, why is it so easy to say the “F” four letter word, yet so hard to say the word love? We never know how or when we will die. Let those who you love hear it before they will never hear it from you.
Love you Dad!