Rescuing the rescuers: Seattle police support landslide first responders

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by MEG COYLE / KING 5 NEWS

Bio | Email | Follow: @MegCoyleKING

KING5.com

Posted on March 26, 2014 at 5:42 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 26 at 6:22 PM

DARRINGTON, Wash. -- Day five into the landslide disaster and the news only seems to get harder to hear. The death toll climbing, the destruction overwhelming and first responders are coping, barely.

Every day since the slide happened, they have taken to the podium to take questions. For many it's the first time these first responders have talked to the media, and the first time they've been forced to confront what they've seen every day.

"It was a baby's nursery that we found all crushed," said firefighter Jan McClelland. "I picked up this little picture book and I rubbed the front of it to get the mud off of it and it said, '20 things for little hands to do,' and it took my breath away."

The business of rescue is, at its heart, personal. McClelland's husband, Jeff, is also a firefighter. He chokes back tears as he recalls one man's search for his father.

"His son is out there as a civilian, on the debris pile, and it's his father."

In the face of unimaginable tragedy there is the question: Who rescues the rescuers?

Assistant Seattle Police Chief Nick Metz is part of the department's Critical Incident Stress Management Team, now deployed to the disaster zone. They are specially trained to help fellow first responders when the worst happens. They were there when the "Lakewood Four" were murdered, and they were there when the Seattle Fire Department lost four of their own. They are current and former first responders with firsthand knowledge of the toll tragedy takes.

"We have folks there on the ground to check on them, meet with them as needed, debrief them and see how they're doing to make sure they start that healing process well," said Metz.

At least three peer debriefers are on site from Seattle and more may be on the way.

In a disaster like this one, relaying information is one thing. Relating to it with someone who knows what you're going through is everything.

"I mean there were times where I was near my breaking point. And I believe we get to that where I just need to go and sit with some friends or sit with a stranger and let me cry," said Jeff McClelland.

There is also a hotline for anyone coping with grief from the Oso landslide: 1-800-5840-3578.
 

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