For rescuers, tragedy aftermath ‘like PTSD after a war’Emergency responders urged to get counseling if needed following incidents.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
“Don’t hold it inside.” That’s what Mitchell Fire Marshal Marius Laursen told one of the men who risked their own safety by trying to rescue two young boys from a burning, smoke-filled house on April 21.
Laursen was speaking with Toby Kippes, a Mitchell native now living in Garretson, who was one of five men who worked to save the lives of a mother and her two sons after a house fire.
Jaxon Sehnert, 3, died April 22 at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls. His brother Jacob Sehnert, 6, remained hospitalized at Avera McKennan as of earlier this week.
The boys’ mother, Jessica Sehnert, was treated for smoke inhalation. So were Kippes and Clinton McQuistion, bystanders who went into the house to try to find the boys.
Kippes stopped at the damaged house on April 22 and chatted with Laursen, who was conducting an investigation there. Laursen told him it is important to talk about the event and seek assistance if needed.
“It’s a piece of advice,” Laursen said. “The guy seemed to be handling it well. However, if Toby does call out, I will do what I can for him.”
The fire marshal said he has the same advice for McQuistion, Trevor Wilson, Trevor Black and Dylan Van Bockel, who also ran to the house in an effort to help.
In the days after the fire, both Kippes and McQuistion said they had been talking to people about their experience and neither thought they needed assistance. Both said it was a remarkable experience that they had replayed several times in their minds.
Laursen said the Mitchell emergency responders were asked if they needed assistance on Monday.
“We held a debriefing with all the firefighters and people who responded to that,” Laursen said. “We offered to call in a team. All the firefighters and staff felt they were doing OK.”
But he said the Mitchell Fire Division staff will keep an eye on people and listen for any requests for help. If they notice somebody having problems, they will get them the help they need. Laursen, 41, has been a firefighter for 15 years. He said he has sought counseling a few times and thinks it’s a smart move for people in his line of work. He sought assistance after “really bad incidents or something that may involve children,” he said. “They bring in an outside team that does related-type things,” Laursen explained. “They could be firefighters, paramedics or nurses from outside the area.
“They ask questions, we sit in a circle and discuss the call. Usually, there’s some kind of clergy involved.
“The mental thing gets really difficult. Don’t hold it in. Talk it out. It can really affect someone. It’s like PTSD after a war. It’s really no different than that.”
Sometimes, emergency responders reach their limit, he said.
The “burn-out level” is a very real factor for firefighters and others who deal with life-and-death issues on a regular basis.
“You can only take so much,” Laursen said. “There’s a point in your life when you say, I can’t take it anymore.”
According to an online report on post-traumatic stress disorder written by Matthew Tull, who specializes in the study of anxiety disorders, most firefighters will not develop PTSD, but studies have found that “anywhere between approximately 7 percent and 37 percent of firefighters meet criteria for a current diagnosis of PTSD.”
The number varies depending on how the firefighter was interviewed, among other factors, according to Tull, an associate professor and director of anxiety disorders research in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Miss.
“One study of United States firefighters looked at the type of traumatic events experienced,” he wrote. “High rates of traumatic exposure were found.
“For example, many had been exposed to crime victim incidents, people who were ‘dead on arrival’ (where the death was not due to natural causes), accidents where there were serious injuries, and some also reported that they had experienced stress associated with giving medical aid to children and infants.”
Tull wrote that it’s important for fighters to have social support available either at home or through work. In addition, it has also been found that having effective coping strategies available may lessen the impact of experiencing multiple traumatic events.
Mitchell Police Officer Joel Reinesch, right, thanks Toby Kippes April 21 for his efforts to rescue two young brothers from a burning, smoke-filled house the previous night.