This week our local fire community has a very heavy heart. Sunday, March 20, 2016, the Conway Fire Department suffered an LODD. Firefighter Christopher Gene Ray was killed in an apparatus related incident. This took place in the early stages of a structure fire in the Conway fire district.
Even after 27 years of Fire and EMS I cannot imagine how Chris’s family feels this morning. I understand the void that the members of the Conway Fire Department feel but still it is no easier to understand. I did not know this young man personally I only knew him to see him. I have several friends that work for Conway that I have not reached out to as of yet because I really do not know what to say other than the normal things you would say during this time of loss. I am truly sorry for your loss.
Lately, there has been so many line of duty deaths, it is getting old. People that are not involved in the fire service simply do not understand. When someone is lost like this brother the community as a whole will morn, people will exchange kind words, they will send flower and drop notes at the fire house. This is all part of mourning. The question is how will the department deal with this loss. Just like any death, the men that work with Chris will go through the same stages of the grieving process that we all go through anytime someone is lost. Unfortunately, for those in the service, it doesn't stop there.
When a line of duty death occurs first responders have an extra set of ugly burdens they have to bear. First, when the incident happens they have to break from usual routine and rescue or attempt life-saving measures for their fallen brother or sister. Once that is mitigated they have to continue with the response at hand. Close your eyes for a minute imagine that you are part of that crew you get to the call and you start doing your job. You are doing size up, stretching hose lines, getting the ambulance stretcher or of a million other things we do anytime we get on scene, all of a sudden unplanned there is a call for help from a fellow responder. Now thigs have changed drastically.
Before we go on I want to stop and remind you that I called those that work together in the fire/EMS service brothers and sisters. We talk constantly about "The Brotherhood," our families and those around us get tired of hearing it but it is true. Face it when you live a third or better of your life with a group of people your become family, sometimes closer than your blood family. Are your eyes still closed are you still imagining this call. There is a brother in need. Every person on that scene wants to stop what they are doing and run to the aid of the one in need. Well, you can't do that, some still have to carry on with what they are doing. So now there are two groups of people on scene those helping our down brother and friend and those that are trying to rescue people, put out the fire or whatever.
Now in time it has moved from a brother in need to an LODD. Imagine if you will and I pray you can't, what it feels like to have a brother dead. Can you stop and begin to grieve? Can you and the rest of your family start what needs to be done next? Can you begin to think of this brother's family he is leaving behind? The answer to all of that is no. Those still there have to keep working until the emergency is over until the investigation is done, until the equipment is cleaned up and the rig back in service. Yes, it sucks, you have to keep right on working. Now open your eyes and ask yourself how you would feel if the answer is I don't know it's a good one we don't know either and it is a potential we face every time we go out the door.
Let’s continue to consider how fire fighters deal with this. Now the call is over everything is back in service most of the responders involved have been replaced by fresh personal and the day goes on. Next shift or next call whatever your situation your crew goes on the next call like you do every day. The problem is there is a h*** where your brother should be and he isn't, sure there is someone there but not the one that should be. Now every time you go out for the rest or your career you are going to think about that person. Sure it gets easier but it never goes away it will always be there even if you move up or move on when you work you will think of people that have been lost.
So what’s the problem you ask, this same is true in any work environment. Here is the heavy load that people can’t understand, not even our families I mean they try and they say they do but unless you do the job you cannot understand. The burden that inhibits the healing process is the fact that when you get back to the fire house or back to work you look around at the people you are with and realize that the something could happen again at any given time. The next call or even at the house the next guy could die any minute. I know it’s a morbid way to live but we live this way every day. So when you hear us talk about brothers and sisters it is real it’s not funny or cute or something to be made fun of, it’s how we have to live to do what we do, to be there for those that do not understand.
For the Conway, brothers grieve that your time and do it your way. Make sure it is a safe way and not one that is destructive or one that can cause more loss. To all to those affected by LODD do the same, as hard as it is try to learn something from the tragedy so it isn't in vain as some good can come of it. Families give those that have lost a lot of room and just be there for them, don't push them or distance yourself from them. When your fire fighter comes home and tells you the you don't understand or you can't understand know that this is correct you don't. Accept this do not get angry or fight about it that is the last thing you want when they leave the house. Fire fighters understand that the reverse is true as well, you do not know the worry that loved ones walk around with and you do not know what it is like to not be able to understand what your mate dose.
To all LODD survivors, our thoughts and prayers are with you the responders, to the families thank you for allowing us to be the brother or sister to your family member and please know that we will never forget, we will go on, and we will honor your loss as our own.
Train hard, stop and think, love one another look out for one another.