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Do recruits get prepared for that nasty sight?


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Following on from Carls thread about the Jackson street fire and probationers seeing those nasty sights, do your service prepare new recruits for the harsh realities of the job? And if so how?

Recently Birmingham crews were faced with this and the first truck in attendance had a lad on there that passed out from TDC a month after me. Ive had the misfortune to see the photos the public took at the scene on social media and in all honesty with what the crews were faced with i’d hate to be first in attendance to something like this

With West Mids we had an LFB firefighter who was on the MP8 for Grenfell give us a talk and that did make us take stock of the future. On my RDS BA course the only major reality we were shown was the Harrow court presentation along with a talk from one of the TDC instructors that was present at a nasty arson. Since then ive only had two nasty jobs, both whilst doing RDS and not ashamed to admit that one did take a while to get over. Some of my coursemates have fared a little worse with jobs though., I understand theres not much you can do whilst at training centre but are recruits being prepared enough to the harsh and sometimes upsetting realities of the job

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Apart from a couple of slides at STC we weren't prepared for what we might face in the real world.  Not sure what LFB training consists of these days but when I was a recruit it was literally a couple of pictures.

In the few years I've done I've seen and done things that have been frankly horrendous, the last one being a 'one under'.  I won't go into detail but let's just say that the scene resembled a horror film.

In a little under the 10 years I've been in ive seen pretty much everything you could possibly see being a firefighter, and so far I THINK I've managed to process it all ok.

Time will tell.

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In a word no. Any pictures we were shown over 20 years ago when I was at TC never really resemble the real thing. The incidents attended are all filled with the emotion of being turned out to them, the circumstances of the incident and the surroundings at the time. Weather, smells and all other aspects associated with the incident all play the part and leave you feeling how you do. 

I have had the unfortunate experience of seeing plenty of fatals over the years, firefighters on my watch burned and a whole host of challenging incidents. We now have things in place to deal with the feelings that go with all these incidents but I am still old school and the banter on the watch is the best medicine. 

In the long term, only time will tell.

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Having just passed out, I can say no. Had a few slides of gruesome injuries during first aid and had a talk from tech rescue who went to grenfell, showing us some pictures not in the public domain. That was it though. We had a couple of case studies, one being Shirley towers and couple of in-house ones, but only in detail of what happened.

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Interesting you got that input Crog. On my On call recruits course there was a more sincere "talk" to us all that despite the fun and games of initial training, you will eventually see some nasty things on the job. It's impossible to predict how or if that will affect you. I think it's more important that staff are fully aware of what support is available to them if they need it and in my opinion the brigade do a good job of that.

Rightly or wrongly there is a lot of gallows humour. Obviously not anything deliberately disrespectful but for me at least I know my sense of humour has darkened somewhat.

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There isn’t any amount of input, no matter how graphic, that could prepare you for the real thing. I agree that there should be matter of fact talks, but maybe they should be earlier on in the recruitment process. I originally wanted to join the military and had a very frank discussion as part of a group from an infrantry corporal that left no illusion about the realities of the job. No slides, no photos, no presentation; and it was more than enough to make me reconsider whether I was doing the right thing.

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I agree with Jamiejet that there isn’t really any way of preparing you for what you might see on the job. The key is how and when it is dealt with post incident, and the sooner issues are addressed the better, rather than letting them fester and grow into something horrible. Whether it be sitting round the table with the crew or talking with the mrs (or mr) when you get home, it’s better to talk them out instead of chew on them for a while and swallow them until years later. My partner has helped me digest things I’ve seen and done and there have been times I would have been lost without her. But I wouldn’t trade this job for any other.

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I remember being told that it may be a while before I was exposed to a fatal incident, yet I left training school, joined my watch and had a fatal house fire on my very first night shift. I have lost count on the number of fatals I have had. This year has been terrible to be honest. Ive always served at busy stations and always been next to motorway network, so tend to pick them up. Im lucky to have an older watch also where the youngest two are 23 and 27 and then 44 upwards. We look after the younger ones who have struggled a bit in recent times however the support is there for them, should they need it. 

On the unlucky side, my wife has been in the job for just under 20 years as a Control Op and as much as we bounce our experiences off each other and understand what each of us do, its very different. After coming home from the Manchester Bomb, she was obviously feeling it knowing 22 people had been killed whilst carrying out a nightshift. 

Its a strange job being a firefighter, but as mentioned above, personaly I feel being a rider Station Officer (in old money), I wouldn't change it for any other. 

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I don’t agree with the notion that you need any ‘preperation’ for the horrors of our job.  Why subject people to grusome photos or videos?  As has been said, everybody reacts differently and every nasty job is different so nothing can prepare folks for what they may or may not see.

The overriding priority by a country mile is make sure people know where to go if they need help to cope with a particular job and above all else, to reinforce that it’s ok to ask for that help. 

The days of dragging the new bod to gawp at a dead body ‘cos it’s good for them to see’ should be consigned to history. 

My advice.... do what you need to do but if there is no need to imprint upsetting images in your brain then don’t bother.

For me personally it’s not the sight of blood snot and crispy bodies that upsets me, it’s the continued contact with bereaved families, the  kids toys lying about a fire scene or the other obscure, non graphic things that can affect you. 

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Noddy your last point is excellent as i had never considered that to happen as it was never explained to me. Small things you associate with a bad job rather than the gruesome sight. One of which was a fatal car fire on the M42. I got back after the job to my now wifes house and stripped off all my sweaty horrible clothes,  including a top i was very fond of, chucking them in the washing basket, had a shower and went to bed. A week later i was presented with a stack of ironed clothes, yep that top was in there and to be honest thats when it hit me.

I dont know if its because i had inadvertedly “brought the job home with me” but it took a few phone sessions with our critical incident team for me to deal with it. Although i drive past the spot where it happened everytime i go to work and its clear where on the motorway it happened, thats never got to me as much as seeing that nice clean top

Its something i have talked about with new members of my RDS unit as its something they’d never considered as well

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Indeed! Noddy makes the point exactly.

For me I have a coping mechanism that has held me in good stead for 20 years, I know I get very reflective for 3 days (never more never less) then I move on. The brain and your memory are powerful things and I can still recall the minute details of many, but its the ones that I have forgotten but then suddenly remember that stops me in my tracks.

The Fire service have more robust mechanisms in place now if you want professional counselling or advice.... if you need to use them.

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Isn't it interesting how we all seem to have different ways of dealing with what we see and do.

I can remember my first real nasty sight, and something inside me just categorised it as a film prop......like it wasn't real.  This wasn't an intentional thing, my mind just saw it as that?

Like I said above, a very recent 'one under' I/we attended was particularly nasty BUT again I just saw the scene as something from a movie, not real.  We were there for one reason or another for a good while so i was exposed to it for much longer than is ideal, but again I just saw it as not real.  

No idea whether my subconscious mind is doing me a favour with this coping mechanism or not?  Who's to say that one day it all comes back?  All I know is that so far it's working.

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I know what you mean carefree I think I’m coping but who knows.  The difference for me now as an FI is the length of exposure to bodies, that I have to handle and process them and then the weeks and months going over the job for an inquest or trial, dealing with family etc...at least when I rode a truck I could to a greater extent put it to bed as soon as I left the job. 

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I don’t envy you Noddy if I’m honest.  

Us Ff’s on the ground are only exposed to terrible sights etc until the incident is over, whereas you see those same horrible things and have to deal with the families, and attend inquests or trials and more.  We just deal with the immediate aftermath whereas Fire Investigation have to deal with and go into the details.

When our exposure is over yours is only just beginning.

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It is swings and roundabouts to be fair mate.  I am no longer dealing with live, albeit seriously injured people.  They are invariably either away to hospital or dead at the scene by the time I arrive.  The dust has settled and members of the public are behind the cordon tape.  I am only going to fires, obviously, so no more nasty SSC’s either.  Also there is no urgency in the work I do anymore which brings its own stresses.

Where it may be worse for me on one hand, it’s better on the other. 

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Its not just fatals, as when I was in a FI team, even bread + butter jobs were stressful. Consider the punter whose home had been wrecked along with possessions and memories. They may keep it together during the couple of hours the fire crews were in attendance, but the shock would get to them when the scene was quiet with perhaps just me and them there. So to make sense of the hours leading up to the fire means asking difficult questions and trying to decipher the answers through terms and sobbing

In terms of fatals - in addition to moving, lifting and on one occasion, undressing dead bodies, there's the delicate act of talking to somebody who may be responsible for another's death - even a member of their family.

I recall a toddler had moved and switched on a radiant electric fire under a new born's cot as 'she looked cold', before he went back to bed. The new born died in the resultant fire and the parents had the double whammy of grieving for their loss and coming to terms that the toddler did what he did (was it an accident or intended??). I cannot hear Andrew Gold's 'Lonely Boy' without thinking of this job. Look up the lyrics, as its about a 1st born who is angry at his parents for giving him a surprise sibling! 

 That was perhaps the single biggest difficult series of interviews I ever did - in their own way, they were more traumatic than the sight of that tiny body in the fire scene. I know that sounds crass, but we all must expect to see shit like that so in whatever context, so it makes sense if you get what I mean. The 2 or 3 year old's actions were more troubling and nothing I had prepared for. As a Fire Investigator, you do get closer to these problems than you would ever have when operational, and working alone as I did on this one, was very tough going.

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