One Year. One year has passed since the 1 October tragedy struck our Las Vegas community. One year since our lives, my life, has taken a turn I never expected. Like most cases, it feels like time has flown since then, but somehow it also feels so far away. As I look back at the events of that evening, as I reflect on the lives lost, the lives forever injured, and the paramount feeling of sadness that will forever surround this date, I remain hyper focused on trying to bring some positivity to a negative situation.
My colleagues and I have tried to ensure that those who might face a similar situation to what we encountered are encouraged with the knowledge that, even though you might be going through a dark time, there will be light at the end of the tunnel.
I attribute a lot of that effort, and our positivity, to the out pouring of love and support we received from the Thin Gold Line community that stretches from coast-to-coast. In the days and weeks, even months, that followed 1 October, cards, letters, and packages came into our center with messages of love and encouragement. Atta boy’s and jobs well done were scribbled in every corner, each person just trying to show their support. It was a feeling I, still to this day, have a hard time describing. To know that a stranger, from a completely difference state, locale, or situation, knows what we’re going through because we’re part of this 911 community. It is truly something amazing.
About a month and a half after 1 October I was asked to speak at the Illinois Public Safety Telecommunicators Association Conference regarding my experience that evening. At that conference I met Ricardo. We talked for a bit and exchanged contact info and have remained in contact since. I had already been familiar with what he was doing with the podcast and the #IAM911 movement, but it was only then that I started to truly see its impact.
See, you can have absolutely brilliant policies and procedures that deal with a whole gambit of different situations, active shooters, mass casualties, natural disasters to name a few, but if you do not have something in place to deal with the aftermath of those incidents, the emotional aftermath, the rest might as well be mute. It also does not take an incident as large as the one we experienced to have a significant lasting impact. I have been in this 911 field for over a decade. I have taken tens of thousands of calls over the years and only now have I started to realize the impact that they can have as time goes by. You HAVE to have a way to deal with that burden. You HAVE to have a way to process through those tragedies and emotions. I grew up in the era of “just get back in there kid!”, “Just rub some dirt on it!” That style and approach CAN NOT and SHOULD NOT be how you deal with the mental carnage that is placed upon us call after call after call.
While #IAM911 started as an effort to get Public Safety Telecommunicators recognized and reclassified, it has become an outlet for us to deal with and process through those emotions. An outlet for us to take some of that burden off ourselves and speak about it. During one of our 1 October debriefings, we were given the example of a trash can. Each call we take, each traumatic situation we deal with, it’s like a piece of paper being placed into a trash can. After a while it’s undoubtedly going to get full. However, each time you talk about it, each time you deal with it, you remove a piece of paper from that can. The more you talk about it, the more you deal with it, the emptier your can will be.
Some of us, myself included, are fortunate enough to have peer support teams and CISM systems in place and available. This is not true everywhere though. There are even some places that have it but it is sadly not available to telecommunicators. If that is the case where you are, be the person to change it! Push for these teams and systems to be in place. Attend trainings and seminars so you can be the person people come to when they have those traumatic calls. Lastly, I urge you, and everyone in this field, to continue to share your stories through #IAM911. Not only will you help yourself process through these situations, but someone else might see it, might read it, and finally understand they are not alone. They too, might share the feelings, have had the same experiences, and in turn it might be able to help them process what they are going through. We must continue to be there for each other.
With that being said:
“You were running away from the concert, you made your way to the parking lot of the church just to the east. You called because you came across two gunshot victims, both beyond help. I told you to just keep moving because there was nothing we can do and I had many other calls to get to but I heard something in your voice. That crack. That crack of someone trying to hold it together, but your control was slipping away. That crack in your voice let me know that while you might not be physically injured, you were most definitely mentally and emotionally injured. I talked to you for a few more minutes while you got further away to safety. While I know you will never be counted as one of the many injured, you most definitely were, and I will never ever forget that crack.” #IAM911
Combined Communications Center
Las Vegas Fire and Rescue
Denise Amber Lee Foundation