Watching Out For Each Other

* Image Copyright 2009 Paul Combs, all rights reserved

By now you have probably heard of the terrible news out of Aurora, Colorado from last nights senseless shooting at a midnight screening of the last in the series of the “Batman” trilogy. In case you have not here are some links to the coverage, L.A. Times, ABC News and CNN. My thoughts and prayers are with all those innocent people who were killed and wounded just for trying to go see a movie and have a fun night out as well as their families and friends who will be affected by this event for long after. But my thoughts immediately turned to the firefighters, paramedics and police officers who responded to the scene.

This scene had the potential to be a career altering one to many that were there last night, whether they realized it at the time or not. From the probie or new patrol officer just out of the academy right up to the grizzled veteran with decades of experience anyone could be susceptible to the unusual amount of stress and emotions that they were subject to last night. Especially since, according to reports, there were children involved. The next days, weeks and months will be critical for all involved in this horrific event. The brothers and sisters that work alongside those involved are going to need to be acutely aware of their co-workers behavior, moods and tendencies and not be afraid to speak up if they notice anything that could lead them to believe that anything unhealthy is going on. Anger issues and irritability are the least of the problems that could lead to alcoholism, depression and even suicide. I would hate to think that I sat idly by while I watched a brother or sister spiral down and take their own life while knowing I had a feeling I should say something to him or her, or a supervisor. I wouldn’t want that on my conscience. Bosses, look for it. Union reps, look for it and push the administration to schedule Critical Incident Stress Debriefings if they have not done so already. Everyone needs to be each others keepers.

The incident does not need to be on the size and scope of Aurora to have an effect on someone either. You never know what will get to someone. One that got to me was a fatal involving a child very soon after I found out my wife was pregnant with our first child. I wasn’t even a father yet, but just knowing I was going to be in a relatively short amount of time stirred up emotions in me that I had never experienced responding to a similar scene multiple times before in my career. It took me by surprise and several days to process through what was going on with me and why. A little while ago my friend Lloyd Mitchell, an aspiring firefighter and current photojournalist, shot one of his first homicide scenes. Soon after he polled his network of public safety friends for how we get over bad scenes. I offered my insights as I’m sure numerous others did. While I offered my advice sincerely and with best of intentions, as others surely did, unfortunately I feel that it is a most individual thing. There are tools you can use that many counsellors, psychologists and doctors advocate for dealing with stress issues, but in the end I think it comes down to what healthy method works for you and, unfortunately, exposure to enough of it. After a while that crust does get built-up. But that does’t mean that something, at some time, won’t make it through.

Keep your eyes and ears open for each other brothers and sisters. Don’t be afraid to speak up. I’d rather be called an asshole or be told to mind my own business than look at a widow at a funeral knowing I had “a feeling” and never said anything.

Be safe. Be healthy.

Keep the Aurora and surrounding Brothers and Sisters in your thoughts and prayers.


7 comments on “Watching Out For Each Other

  1. Peggy Sweeney says:

    Chris, thank you for your very candid thoughts. It’s time that everyone protect and care for others. I support you in your efforts to make a difference.

    God bless and stay safe
    Peggy Sweeney, founder
    The Sweeney Alliance
    Editor, Grieving Behind the Badge newsletter


  2. Ron S says:

    Take heart my brothers and sisters the bad dreams will follow you at retirement. But just keep the faith and they will get fewer as time goes by . never all gone .


  3. Ron S says:

    Had our Dept. had some kind of post incident stress program I think it would have helped . And its not unmanly , or un lady to say something is bothering you.


    • Peggy Sweeney says:

      Ron, we all have to work towards removing the stigma. It must start at the top with the chiefs. They have to be willing to admit that THEY may have had a problem with a call or two. They have to NOT be ashamed to admit they are human. The days of “suck it up and go on” MUST stop. Or we will see our brothers and sisters continue to commit suicide.


      • Phil Burden says:

        I’ve be doing C I S M for 20 years now. The wheels are moving to slowly on this one.


  4. Shannon Kobe says:

    Chris: You have this one spot on with what is said. We are all keeping the first responders in our prayers. I was watching some of the Fox News and the Police Chief is holding his own ground on getting out the information but it is taking it’s toll on him as lead on the agency in front. The trucks with the ladders from the f.d. holding cops in the aerial baskets with nomex gear and tactical vests underneath…tell a story of their own. We are all in this together. Aurora and all around America. First Responders in Law Fire and EMS keep our homeland protected. In this situation, we need to be mindful of taking care of our own as well. thanks for a good blog.
    Shannon Pennington


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