Last week’s five-person fatality wreck on I-35 near the Franklin and Osage County line required the steady and capable talents of local law enforcement and emergency services professionals. Despite gruesome conditions down a ravine with multiple adult and child victims — deceased and not — these professionals kept their focus on the job at-hand and seemingly worked on automatic pilot to rescue all those they could.

Fire crews from Williamsburg, Lincoln-Ottawa-Harrison townships, Centropolis and Wellsville all responded to the scene.  Franklin County Emergency Medical Services personnel also were on scene, along with EMS crews from Osage and Coffey counties.  Law enforcement working the wreck included the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, the Ottawa Police Department and Kansas Highway Patrol, as well as the Osage County Sheriff’s Office.

It all began with a call to our Franklin County Emergency Communication Center. Workers there dispatched the proper departments to the scene and played a major role in this incident, as well as all the others that seem to occur with too much frequency.

Though these professionals are trained to remain calm throughout crisis conditions, that doesn’t mean they aren’t affected by the situations they encounter — especially those involving death and children. We are fortunate to have these public servants working on our behalf in environments few of us likely could handle with the finesse they exhibit.

Though each of these individuals has extensive training on handling wrecks and dealing with stress, everyone needs some help along the way. That includes emergency workers and first responders.

While the empathy is ample and the adrenaline might flow while in the line of duty, flashbacks, anxiety and a sense of helplessness from not being able to save victims quickly can rear their ugly heads once the immediacy of the event passes. The sheriff’s office uses a chaplain, Pastor Scott Dickinson, who is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide counsel to those desiring assistance beyond the initial critical stress debriefings.

Mental health professionals at the Elizabeth Layton Center for Hope and Guidance provided a critical stress de-briefing to those involved with the recent wreck scene, as well as other tragedies, to deal with the acute stress reaction emergency personnel encounter. The Kansas Highway Patrol also conducted a debriefing in Topeka for all agencies. It is important to treat those visible and not-so-visible symptoms before they manifest themselves into something worse.

Franklin County Sheriff Jeff Curry, who has extensive training in critical stress management, often facilitates these sessions for his staff. Curry said he understands that healing from these incidents is not complete when the debriefing is over, since each person’s needs are unique. Other resources are used, as needed, to assist in the healing process.

It is easy to take these emergency workers, who live among us in the community, for granted and not pay attention to their needs. Fortunately, professionals on both sides of the crisis are serving each other so they can continue to serve the rest of us too.

— Jeanny Sharp,

editor and publisher