Guilt as a Rescuer

I read an article today that brought up thoughts and feelings of not only my own but I’m sure of millions of others who have attempted to save someone’s life and have been unsuccessful. While police officers, firefighters, first responders, life guards and others in emergency services know what they are signing up for it doesn’t make it any easier when they are unsuccessful.

When I read a story about an emergency worker who has died or who is suffering because of an avoidable emergency a little bit of anger begins to bubble. I know accidents happen, I realize people make mistakes and I know we all take risks. I also know I would want emergency workers to risk their lives for my family if we were in danger whether or not we were doing something we shouldn’t have been doing.

The fact remains emergency workers are hurt physically and mentally whether they are successful or not. Paid or volunteer these people respond to situations where people have made decisions good or bad. It feels like people are making bad choices more frequently putting the lives of emergency workers in danger more often.

It takes a special person who willingly puts themselves in harm’s way. One who volunteers to get woken up in the middle of the night to face who knows what. As a former first responder, wildland firefighter and EMT and as the wife of a former first responder, EMT and firefighter I know how  unnerving emergencies or “calls” can be. I say “calls” because we used to actually get phone calls when radios didn’t work at the end of the Gunflint Trail. Sometimese these “calls” were emergencies and sometimes they weren’t really an emergency in my mind.

When my mind started to question the “emergency call” is when I knew it was time to hang up my emergency responder’s hat. When I started to get annoyed with the situations people were in or cared more about my husband’s or own safety than their “rescue” it was quite obvious I was no longer doing the “right” thing. It isn’t easy to admit that I became more selfish or less-caring of others. It doesn’t feel good to know that I no longer want to help people in that capacity. But the fact remains.

What I worry about most now is how many other responders, paid or volunteer, are beginning to feel that way. When police officers are being shot for no reason or firefighters are walking into traps set at meth labs or when someone decides to let their child take a swim in a lake where a rip current is visible and there are 6 foot waves, it makes me wonder.

How long will there be people willing to risk their lives for others? Will there be situations when an emergency responder sizes up the scene, determines it’s not safe and then asks the question, “Is this person crazy?” and then chooses not to respond? Will there always be people who are willing to risk their own life to save a stranger who may have been engaging in a very risky behavior? Will rescuers feel less guilty the more times they can’t save someone?

I think you know the answer as do I. These are my thoughts and why I, like others, should just avoid the news.

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