Firefighters dealing with trauma after deadly fire

Apartment fire leaves 6-year-old dead, 4 others fighting for their lives

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Dozens of firefighters responded to the scene of a deadly apartment fire in the St. Nicholas area early Friday morning that left two adults and two children fighting for their lives in the hospital.

A 6-year-old girl died at the scene from apparent smoke inhalation, despite firefighters efforts to revive her.

Many of the firefighters who were at the scene are trying to deal with the emotional and psychological trauma of what they saw.

Lt. Eric Prosswimmer (pictured) helped pull victims from the burning apartment. He said Friday afternoon that he hadn't eaten or slept since the call came in around 1:40 a.m. Friday. As far as understanding and coping with what's happened, he said for him, it comes down to leaning on his fellow firefighters -- the men and women he calls his second family.

"There was a firefighter struggling to lift a child. I picked it up and put her over my shoulder," Prosswimmer said. "I brought that child to basically where our command center was, where everybody was congregating, and I checked for a pulse, and there was no pulse."

Prosswimmer, a veteran firefighter with Jacksonville Fire Rescue, described those moments as he and his colleagues worked to save a family from a St. Nicholas apartment fire. He called it one of the worst scenes in his 15-year career.

"After that call last night, I haven't eaten today. I'm not in the mood to eat," Prosswimmer said. "I haven't slept all day. It's taxing on your body."

Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters, said over the next days and weeks, no matter how long it takes, the firefighters will get the services they need and deserve.

"It definitely affects firefighters. … It's something we have to deal with. Every firefighter deals with it differently. Some don't show the effect. Some do show the effect. Again, you deal with each one individually," Wyse said. "We have a very good Critical Incident Stress Management Response Team."

For Prosswimmer, getting support from his brothers and sisters at the fire station is helping already. He said no matter what comes up, they always know how to lean on each other. Because one thing these men and women know, their fellow firefighters are the ones who truly understand.

"I can't turn to somebody who hasn't lived it, who hasn't pulled a child out of a fire, pulled someone from the bottom of a lake, seen somebody crushed in a car," Prosswimmer said. "I can't turn to them if they don't have any idea what I'm going through." 

About the Author: