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Salem, CT 4/12/2014

Emergency workers get help handling Salem boy's death

An article in the Norwich Bulletin – April 14, 2012

Salem Fire Chief Gene Maiorano said emergency responders don’t pick their calls.  “You go to them and do what you have to do,” he said.  

And while he was hesitant to talk much about last week’s tragedy, Maiorano admits it was one of the worst he’s had to deal with in his 33-year career as chief in this small town.

On Tuesday, 6-year-old Jeffrey Bourgeois was killed after he was pulled into a wood chipper while helping his father clear brush on Brookside Drive in Salem. Maiorano was first on the scene.

He said it made him recall an equally difficult incident, when he was among the responders to a fire in 1999 that claimed the life of a mother and her two children.  He said sympathy and support needs to be directed to the family who lost their child.

But emergency responders need support, too, said Charles Epstein, operations director for the Connecticut Critical Incident Stress Management Team.  Epstein said volunteers from his organization met with members of the Salem Volunteer Fire Department, the school system and other emergency personnel after Tuesday’s accident. He said members of the team also checked in on emergency dispatchers, who, he said, often are forgotten but just as involved.

Team members are a mix of psychologists, emergency service personnel and social workers, all with special training to help with stress debriefing. Many of the volunteers have a background in emergency services, giving them the ability to empathize.  “Emergency responders, police, fire, EMS, are exposed to traumatic incidents every day,” Epstein said. “I think, for the most part, the public has the impression that if you’re in the field, you’re not affected by the things you see. That’s wrong.”

Death can cause crisis.  Most people who get into the field do it out of compassion and a need to help others, he said.  “That sets them up for emotional crisis sometimes,” he said. “It’s emotionally draining. They respond with the attitude they want to make things better. In this case, they could not.”

In Norwich, East Great Plain Fire Chief Patrick Daley said his volunteer department, like many others, has been through tragedy.  “Whether you’re paid or volunteer, it doesn’t matter,” Daley said of responding to emergency situations. “These are your neighbors and sometimes friends — making it that much tougher.”  Local departments help each other as much as possible, Daley said.