Firefighters deal with emotional stress of tragic fire

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Following the deaths of three children and their grandmother in a mobile home fire Tuesday in Oceanway, the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department is helping responding firefighters deal with the emotional trauma they experienced.

JFRD Chief Martin Senterfitt said that with so many kids being pulled from the fire, many of the firefighters who are parents themselves are struggling.

"The problem becomes exponential," Senterfitt said. "When the first person comes out of the house fire, the emotions run high, and then when they pull the second person out, especially a child, it doubles, quadruples. Then they pull the next one out. And by the time you pull the fourth victim out on one of these, everyone's in a state of shock. They're still functioning, they're still performing, but you can see it in their eyes. You can tell that this is staggering to the individuals involved."

UNCUT: Fire chief talks about fatal fire's toll on first responders

Even the most seasoned firefighters found themselves fighting back tears Wednesday and asking why three children and their grandmother died in the blaze.

When firefighter arrived, the double-wide mobile home was consumed by fire.

Senterfitt said his primary concern now is the well-being of the firefighters, about 40 of whom responded. He said they will be stuck with the images of the victims for the rest of their lives.

"It was a very heartfelt event, so now we're going to make sure our firefighters psychologically are ready to deal with the stress involved," he said.

Firefighters work 24 hours, followed by 48 hours off. Senterfitt said when they return to work, the department will have conversations with them to find out where they are emotionally.

"Last night was so tragic, so graphic, and it was still in the daylight hours," Senterfitt said. "So every time you bring someone out, the evidence is right in front of you. And the firefighters are having to physically deal with this and it's overwhelming."

A chaplain and grief counseling will be available for them when they return to work.

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Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.