Trauma Is Experienced By Children Witnessing a Fire or Medical Emergency
They sit quietly in the garage with only the occasional blast on the horn or short siren wale, when showing off for youngsters from the local school or a young friend of the family who has stopped by the firehouse. On occasion, their parents have pulled over to accommodate the passing of apparatus or ambo on the way to a call. Generally, any encounter a youngster has with a fire truck may be a little bit intimidating but very much under control and friendly.
Now, put yourself in that same youngster’s shoes as one or more of those big trucks suddenly comes down their street code 3 with lights and sirens blaring. To say nothing of the organized chaos that follows when the trucks stops in front of a neighbor’s home. Whether a medical emergency or a fire, the complexity of the relationship between a child and the fire department changes dramatically.
Studies show that not only are the children directly involved in a medical or fire emergency traumatized by the activity but so are the children in the neighborhood who are witnessing the event as it unfolds.
True Story: While visiting family I was staying in a local hotel in South Florida. The fire alarm was activated and quite naturally the Boca Raton fire department responded. This was a fairly common occurrence for this particular property. While evacuating the building I came upon a family with a young girl who was absolutely panic stricken. As I attempted to calm the young child and reassure her, I was informed that the reason they were in the hotel was that they had just experienced a house fire and had to stay in a hotel until they could get back into their home. The young child was re-experiencing the trauma of the fire department responding to her house.
Children directly involved in a fire or medical emergency are fearful that the incident will happen again. Children witnessing the call will often have bad dreams and be fearful that the same thing may happen to their family.
As time, manpower and circumstance allow, the officer in charge should, if not formally, informally should assign a responding firefighter, EMT or member of staged units to a “Children’s Sector.” This individual would then go through the gathered spectators and provide some small level of reassurance that everything is under control and that it is not likely that their family will have this experience.
(NOTE: Never tell a child on scene that everything will be OK because particularly in a medical response, everything may not be OK.) If possible, keep some firefighter badge stickers or better yet a few “fire” teddy bears on hand to give to the children.