Have you ever heard of Critical Incident Stress Management and the debriefings that are a part of it? They are so much a part of my world that I often forget they are invisible to most others.
Let me put it this way. First responders (fire, police, medics, and ER staff) are in the business of bringing urgently needed help into the lives of those who are experiencing an emergency. It’s routine for them, even if it is not for those needing their help. They see and experience a great many of life’s tragic events, so when an incident is bad enough to become a traumatic experience for them, it is a Critical Incident, one serious enough to, perhaps, lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Critical Incident Stress Management debriefings are a form of psychological first-aid provided by trained teams following well tested protocols. As Fire Department chaplain, I am a member of the local team, and lead most of the debriefings we conduct for all public safety and ER personnel. We are not psychologists providing long term therapy. We are not even pastors and counselors providing short term pastoral counseling. We may be either or both by training, but our job is to function in much the same way as medics in the field: assess, stabilize, bind wounds, and point the way to full recovery. Often that’s enough. Sometimes it isn’t. It’s psychological first-aid.
I’ve just returned from leading my fifth Critical Incident Stress Management debriefing in the last eight weeks. It’s unusual for a small city in a rural setting such as ours, but tragic events happen everywhere, and sometimes they seem to come in clumps, even here. I think we’ve had enough for a while. Too many violent suicides, infant and child deaths, fatal wrecks, etc. Events such these ripple through smaller communities because we are more aware of the connections between us. First responders and victims families. We see each other in the store. Our children go to school together. Sometimes we are close friends, or even related. We always know someone who knows them. There are few degrees of separation around here.
I think it’s made a difference. The old get tough and suck it up mentality was not a good one. It too easily led to substance abuse, inappropriate behavior on and off the job, breakdown of personal relationships, and serious health problems. We see less of that than we once did. If nothing else, our first responders know that someone cares and takes the time to show it.