How Firefighters Cope with Tragedy

Blount County (WVLT) - A couple's death marks the third fatal fire in Blount County firefighters have battled just this year. They've lost seven people fighting those flames.

Firefighters don't just douse flames, they also have to handle their emotions in the face of tragedy.

Blount County Fire Fighters clean up after another difficult day.

"It's hit us hard this year. We've had some fatalities that we don't usually have this many of," Captain Jerry Phillips says.

Three fatal fires in just five months. The latest this mornings killed an elderly couple. That makes seven people lost in the flames this year.

"When they see things like this, it's a whole different ball game," Captain Phillips continues.

Captain Jerry Phillips has 20 years experience. Every life he's seen lost to a fire has left it's mark.

"I can remember everyone I've dealt with, and I learned to just put it somewhere, where you don't dwell on it or think about it all time," Captain Phillips says.

In a profession where you have to act tough.

"There's some of that attitude that says suck it up," Paul Trumpore says.

...emotions can take their toll.

"If you have a bad situation, a tough situation, you're going to hurt," Trumpore continues.

Knoxville Fire Department Chaplain Paul Trumpore's helped fire fighters grieve across East Tennessee.

"A lot of firefighters sometimes internalize that--maybe I haven't done my job well enough, and that's just not the case," Trumpore says.

He says debriefings, usually two days after the fire, often help.

"Talk about what they faced that day, what they think about it," Trumpore continues.

Firefighters say the hardest part's not necessarily fighting the fire, but being back at the station with the guilt, second guessing yourself...wondering if there's something more you could've done to save a life.

"A lot of times it takes 24 hours for emotions to kick in," Captain Phillips says.

And it's after the clean-up...the emotions come out.

"We sit around sometimes and it's brought up, and we talk about it, but when the time comes, we go out and do our jobs," Captain Phillips says.

Because another life could be saved.

Captain Phillips says he warns new firefighters the first day about the job's emotional toll.

He credits what he calls the strength and integrity and his men.

And none of them have left the department after any of these tragedies.


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