Monday, August 31, 2009

The Station Fire

More than 105,000 acres are on fire in Southern California.  For those of us from relatively wet regions of the country, this seems unbelievable.  For those of us with children with a particular fear of fire, it's horrifying.  For a firefighter and their family, it's a source of some ambivalence.

Firefighters become firefighters because they want to fight fire.  It sounds silly when you put it that way, but often we forget.  No one trains for this who doesn't get something out of it.  Jeff Mitchell (whose brother, Doug, is a fire fighter) says you have to be crazy to do it.  The natural reflex of any sane person is to run out of a burning building -- these guys run in.  So many firefighters across the country are looking at the Station Fire and wishing they were there.  Some of them are getting their chance, as firefighters from neighboring states are being called in.

On the other hand, firefighting is only enjoyable when everything comes out right.  Nothing beats the rush these guys can have when they beat back the flames and save a house or a life and no one gets hurt.  But when one of our nation's bravest dies fighting a fire, every firefighter in America feels the loss, and every family member of a firefighter takes a blow to the gut.  Two firefighters out of Los Angeles have died in the Station Fire already.  When this is over -- which isn't predicted to be for one or two more weeks -- that's going to be a hard truth to cope with for the others in their own company, the other fighting this fire, and those who just know it could have been them. 

Reading the coverage of the fire, the inklings of what the themes of an intervention on this event might be are starting to emerge.  Right now there are five people trapped by the fire because they did not comply with mandatory evacuation orders.  Not only did they put their own lives at risk when they made that choice, but they also put the lives of the firefighters who now must try to get to them on the line.  I can't imagine there isn't going to be anger about that, particularly if someone gets hurt or, God forbid, dies trying to get them out.

CISM teams most often help with incidents that happen very close to home.  Right now, CISM teams all over the west are getting ready to intervene with firefighters caught in a critical incident in another state -- some of them may be deploying there right now.  And CISM teams may be hearing about the Station Fire all over this country, as fire departments everywhere watch, wait, and mourn two of their own.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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