Dealing with death: First responders speak out - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Dealing with death: First responders speak out

A Tuesday afternoon house fire in Ocean Springs left an elderly woman dead, and firefighters are left with a hole in their hearts. (Photo source: WLOX) A Tuesday afternoon house fire in Ocean Springs left an elderly woman dead, and firefighters are left with a hole in their hearts. (Photo source: WLOX)
If first responders need counseling, it's usually made available within 24 hours after a tragic event. (Photo source: WLOX) If first responders need counseling, it's usually made available within 24 hours after a tragic event. (Photo source: WLOX)
OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) -

A Tuesday afternoon house fire in Ocean Springs left an elderly woman dead, and firefighters are left with a hole in their hearts. One of them is Lt. Justin Lopez.

"When you pull up to a house fire and the fire is already gone where you know you're not going to be able to save someone's life, you feel like you didn't do your job, but there was nothing that we could do that day. It was too far gone," Lopez recalled.

Even Fire Chief Jeff Ponson can't escape that empty feeling.

"It's painful all the time, because you never get used to it. Every situation is different that you come up on, and so you never get used to it," Ponson said.

Paramedics deal with death almost every day. They are not immune, according to Frank Duke with Acadian Ambulance.

"On our level, we take that stuff home too. We are not made of armor. We have feelings and emotions that are associated with the tragic events that these guys see," Duke explained.

Police officers often deal with violent deaths, like a murder in Ocean Springs earlier this year. Circumstances dictate emotions for Lt. Shane Tiner.

"It depends on how it happened. Of course, you have the investigation and the conclusion, and it depends on sometimes when it's violent, it's more, I guess, heartbreaking," Tiner said.

Another officer is Detective Michael Britt.

"If it's natural causes, you kind of know what to expect. If not, if it's a murder, you kind of go down a different road in your mind. Either way, you have to suck it up and get the job done at the time, and then we all deal with it in different ways," Britt explained.

While most of the first responders that I talked with say they have a hard time dealing with death and they take those memories home with them and it lasts for a long time, they're also glad that help is available. Duke talked about that process.

"Outside the peer support system, we have a critical incident stress management team that's available to our crew and to any firemen or police officer throughout the Coast. We work very closely with these groups to provide psychological counseling," Duke explained.

That help lets these first responders continue to save lives whenever they can. If first responders need counseling, it's usually made available within 24 hours after a tragic event.

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