Crisis Intervention & Response LESSON #10 – Responding to a House Fire

Confusion, fear, grief and shock flood a homeowner’s family as fire trucks lights flashing and siren blaring come down the street, in response to a fire in their home.

The complexities involved in a crisis responder’s job is increased with a working residential fire. The crisis responder must anticipate not only emotional issues associated with most calls but also the physical needs of the crisis clients have to be addressed. Only imagine how the task is increased significantly if the fire involves a multi-housing property.

The first step, as with most crisis response calls is to report to the incident commander and determine if Occupant Services has been established. A member of the family will most likely be pointed out and you will be asked to respond to their comfort and needs. Step 2 will in involve setting an “inventory” of the household members and an accounting for each. (Name, age, contact phone numbers AND any medical issues that require medicine that may have been left in the home.

Don’t forget about any pets. Families are very attached to their pets and losing them adds significantly to the trauma of the event. If pets are involved but not accounted for, quietly inform one of the officers to keep an eye out for “Fluffy”. If “Fluffy” is found and is a casualty, ask that you be pulled aside and informed so you can gently break the news to the family.

After the residents themselves have been accounted for, any support network such as friends, immediate family or church members in the area should be established. It is at this time you will establish the immediate shelter options available to the family. What motels are in the area with availability, any relatives to “bunk in with” etc.

Next in the fire inventory process, the crisis responder should assist the occupants of the home establish a list of essentials that were left in the home. These items would include the afore mentioned medications, as well as glasses, dentures, auto keys, money, jewelry, any weapons, etc.

Once the location of the required items is established the crisis responder should coordinate with the incident commander and have a firefighter enter the structure and retrieve the required items if retrievable. Arrangements with the occupants physician or drug store should be made to acquire the replacement of critical medications. If possible it will be useful it the crisis responders can keep a small supply of moving or file boxes in their vehicle for purposes of collecting these essential items. Don’t forget important phone numbers and documents, such as homeowner insurance information.

As time and manpower permits, observe the neighbors who have gathered, particularly the children. Children become anxious when they observe fire ground actives and actually become fearful that their family may experience a fire in their house. The children become peripheral crisis response customers. (reference Crisis Response LESSON #4 and Chief’s Opinion “Fear In Their Eyes”)

MULTI-RESIDENTIAL STRUCTURES: When numerous evacuations from a number of apartments or condos is required, the steps are the same but multiplied by the X factor of the units involved. If available, the Red Cross and additional crisis responders should be immediately asked to respond. A “triage” location needs to be established in which residents can gather and be served. Should no other crisis response resources be available, observe the area and select a resident to help with taking the human and essential item inventory of the residents. Then assume the role of managing the Occupant Services Sector.

For more information concerning the process of Crisis Response Management, watch for Lesson #11 – Domestic Violence – Approach With Caution

Pete Adams
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