Caring for the Caregivers

Emergency Psychotrauma Unit Supports EMS Responders After Traumatic Car Accident

On Saturday night, following a vehicular accident that tragically claimed the lives of two people and shocked the communities of Kiryat Gat and Moshav Uza, United Hatzalah’s Psychotrauma Unit provided a critical incident debrief for the EMTs and paramedics who responded to the call. Due to its highly traumatic nature, the EMTs and paramedics who responded to the incident participated in a group debriefing in order to deal with the trauma of treating their neighbors and friends who were killed. The fatal crash took place at the Uza junction on Route 40 and volunteers from both Israel’s national volunteer emergency medical services (EMS) organization United Hatzalah as well as Israel’s national ambulance service responded and participated in the debrief.

Upon arrival, some of the EMS first responders realized that they knew the deceased personally. “The scene was incredibly traumatic,” said Director of United Hatzalah’s Psychotrauma Unit Miriam Ballin, “Not only did the paramedic first responders have to pronounce the death of two people whom they knew, but they had to treat others who were injured as well. That can really shock a person psychologically.”

Members of the United Hatzalah Psychotrauma Unit provide support for EMS personnel at group debrief on Saturday night. Credit: Davidi Overlander/United Hatzalah
Members of the United Hatzalah Psychotrauma Unit provide support for EMS personnel at group debrief on Saturday night.(Davidi Overlander/United Hatzalah)

After hearing about the accident, a large number of neighbors from Kiryat Gat and Moshav Uza began congregating at the scene in shock and disbelief, making the incident even more personal for the local first responders. “The communities are very close,” said one EMT who requested to remain anonymous. “People here work together and mourn together.”

Compounding the tragedy for family and friends of the deceased was the fact that one of the deceased had recently lost a sibling to cancer, thus the accident was the second death in the family in recent months.

“This was an incredibly difficult situation to deal with and was very traumatic for both the community and the responders. We were called to the scene after the accident occurred, and when we heard that many of the medics knew the victims personally we planned for a group critical incident debrief. When we arrived, all of the EMTs and paramedics who worked together on the scene were waiting to participate in the debrief.  and truly valued the opportunity to debrief together as a team.  “I commend this amazing team and their determination to care for one another,” said Ballin.

Members of the United Hatzalah Psychotrauma Unit provide support for EMS personnel at group debrief on Saturday night. Credit: Davidi Overlander/United Hatzalah
Members of the United Hatzalah Psychotrauma Unit provide support for EMS personnel at group debrief on Saturday night. (Davidi Overlander/United Hatzalah)

One issue that Ballin mentioned is common among first responders to a traumatic scene is that the “many first responders feel that they need to leave the traumatic incident outside of their home. A prevalent feeling is that a first responder has to carry the burden internally to spare his wife or children the emotional price of seeing them in distress.”

Ballin clarified that no reaction is correct or incorrect and stated that having a group debrief helps to alleviate that situation by giving the first responders a proper forum in which to discuss their responses and feeling among peers and allow them to stabilize after treating patients during traumatic events. “A debrief gives them the opportunity to discuss the situation with people who are not only happy to listen to them but understand them as well as they too go through the same situations on a daily basis. That way they feel validated and they can take the burden off of their shoulders and share it with other people as well. The debrief is something that is very comforting and validating for them, and we are happy to provide this opportunity and help the EMS responders whenever and wherever we can.”

A critical incident debrief is thought to be among the best tools to enable first responders to stabilize after working at a traumatic incident. “Following the discussion, everyone felt reassured of their feelings and we saw that they were all well equipped to go on with their work and understood what normal reactions would be to dealing with this type of situation,” Ballin added.

Members of the United Hatzalah Psychotrauma Unit provide support for EMS personnel at group debrief on Saturday night. Credit: Davidi Overlander/United Hatzalah
Members of the United Hatzalah Psychotrauma Unit provide support for EMS personnel at group debrief on Saturday night. (Davidi Overlander/United Hatzalah)

The debrief was very emotional and powerful according to Ballin. “The medics empowered each other with words of comfort and support. Globally, there is a greater awareness in the community of emergency responders about the risks of acute stress incidents and the dangers of PTSD. In Israel, United Hatzalah is taking a leadership role in this field and is ensuring that all of its responders have the support they need to safely continue with their vital task. “In our organization, the most valuable resource we have is our responders, and their emotional well-being is a priority to us! We are prepared to do whatever we can to keep their emotional health safe and intact.”  “We were inspired by this team in particular and their family-like, close-knit relationship,” concluded Ballin.

Present at the debrief were Dr. Adam Ballin, social worker Avi Steinhartz who is the team leader, and therapist Miriam Ballin who is the Director of the Psychotrauma Unit. All of the services of the Psychotrauma Unit, whether to patients in the field or to EMS first responders are free of charge and run by a group of highly trained specialized volunteers who work in the fields psychiatry and psychology.

About the Author
Raphael Poch is a Canadian-Israeli playwright, producer, director, actor and journalist. He is the International Media Spokesperson for United Hatzalah and runs the First City Improv Troupe.
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