Fire chiefs share experience in coping with trauma after tragedy

Fire chiefs share experience in coping with trauma after tragedy

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - When emergency crews rushed to the Orlando nightclub shooting over the weekend, they braced for a gruesome scene. Many of those first responders are firefighters. This week, more than 200 fire chiefs from ten states are gathering in Biloxi. They talked about the emotional aftermath following such a tragedy.

"We didn't have such nice gear," Meridian Fire Chief Anthony Clayton commented as he tried on a newly-designed air pack.

Clayton was among the fire chiefs who checked out new equipment that could help their crews battle the next blaze.

"We have thermal imaging cameras to find people in fires. This is amazing technology compared to what was going on 30 years ago," Clayton said.

The latest technology, gear, and lessons learned from previous disasters were the focus of the 88th annual "Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs Leadership Conference" in Biloxi.

"I want to take something home. I learned a lot in Katrina, and I want to pass that on to some of the chiefs that are here," said Biloxi Fire Chief Joe Boney.

The mass shooting in Orlando was also on the minds of many chiefs Tuesday.

"When I heard about that, the wind just left out of me and your heart just goes out to those people. But instances like that, you have to focus on the mission of saving those individuals," said Clayton.

The fire chiefs say they know the trauma the first responders are facing after witnessing those horrific images inside the Pulse nightclub.

"You've seen some things you never forget. That event there, just like 9/11, or any major traffic accident, those things leave memories in your mind that don't go away," said Battalion Chief Gene Coleman with the Birmingham & Center Point Fire Departments.

"I've seen it and what it does to you for the rest of your life. Our hearts go out to the families, all the families that had loved ones affected by that tragedy," said Boney.

That's why the chiefs continue to train, to be better prepared for any emergency.

"Until you can help those people, you have to compartmentalize your feelings or whatever. Put them away, complete the mission, get them to safety, then you can grieve," said Clayton.

This is Biloxi's first time hosting the Leadership Conference. This year's theme is "Disasters, Natural and Man made." The event ends Thursday night with a fire chiefs' ball.

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