Rescuers continue efforts despite physical, mental toll

Anne Preller

While the FBI focuses on thousands of leads in its investigation of Tuesday’s attacks, hundreds of rescue workers are sifting through the remaining debris. Breathing in soot, workers are overturning rubble to find briefcases, purses, body parts and survivors.

“Many of the rescue workers are also fire emergency people who are running onto their colleagues and friends, brothers and sisters in the fire and emergency services. That in itself is very traumatic,” said Steve Tibbetts, a University teaching specialist for the Medical School and
a licensed psychotherapist and
mortician.

Tibbetts counseled rescue workers during the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing.

“Right now what they are primarily looking for is survivors. Many people will not be able to be identified because of the terrible carnage that has gone on,” Tibbetts said.

When retrieving the dead bodies and body parts, Tibbetts said, collecting and bagging the remains is important for possible identification.

“(Rescue teams) never prepared for this kind of disaster because no one could ever prepare for this kind of disaster,” Tibbetts said, noting that society is never prepared for the unimaginable.

To help rescue workers deal with the psychological trauma of the carnage, organizations such as the Federal Emergency Services Association and Federal Emergency Service have brought mental health workers to the site.

“Workers are fatigued physically as well. There’s a tendency not to want to leave the scene, especially when there are people trapped,” Tibbetts said. “There’s a whole franticness to it, and so you’ve got to keep them calm.”

Mental health workers continue to care for the rescue workers, making sure they are given frequent breaks and talk to trained professionals. Tibbetts said rescue workers are drinking 7-Up to maintain sugar and energy levels without caffeine.

The last act of terrorism with a high number of casualties on American soil occurred in Oklahoma City in 1995, when 168 Americans died.

After the Oklahoma City bombing, Tibbetts said, six rescue workers committed suicide, and the divorce rate in the fire department rose by 300 percent.

With 4,763 people missing at press time, the terrorist attack is a massive tragedy in American history.

“In its coordination and in some degrees, its scale, it is an unprecedented act,” said Colin Kahl, a University political science professor who specializes in international relations and international security.

“It’s clear that most of the American public, as well as policy-makers, perceive this to be an act of war,” Kahl said.

“We don’t know how exactly the U.S. is going to respond,” he said, “but the United States will undoubtedly militarily retaliate against somebody, and that is fairly typical.”

 

Anne Preller welcomes comments at [email protected]