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MailTribune.com
  • Their injuries are invisible

    Emergency responders begin process of coping with aftermath of tragedy
  • Medford Fire-Rescue Chief Dave Bierwiler arrived at 1027 W. 10th St. Monday morning just as the sixth victim was being carried from the still-smoldering home.
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      Agencies that responded to the 10th Street tragedy Monday:
      • Mercy Flights


      • Medford Fire-Rescue


      • Medford Police Department
      • Jackson County Fire District No. 3
      • Jackson County Fire District No. 5
      • Jacksonville Fire Department
      • Ashland Fire & Rescue
      • Medford Rogue Valley International Airport Fire Department
      • Oregon Department of Forestry


      (Correction: Mercy Flights was inadvertently omitted from the original list, but has been added to this version.)
  • Medford Fire-Rescue Chief Dave Bierwiler arrived at 1027 W. 10th St. Monday morning just as the sixth victim was being carried from the still-smoldering home.
    The initial call was for a structure fire. Responders are always prepared that someone might be trapped inside, but no one could have anticipated the horrific scene that awaited them in the modest home.
    Bierwiler has been "practicing street medicine for 40 years," he said. Monday's call to the west Medford neighborhood ranks as one of the top for being "emotionally traumatic and high tension," he said.
    Dozens of men and women from local police and fire departments scrambled across the front lawn, each trained responder desperately trying to save the lives of four young children and two adults, he said.
    "We brought an emergency room to each one of the people not breathing," Bierwiler said.
    Rescue personnel carried out victim after victim, pulled aside bloody clothing, pumped on tiny chests and poured their breath into little smoke-filled lungs.
    "There is nothing more heart-wrenching than doing CPR on a child the age of your child, especially when you're pretty sure they're not going to survive," Bierwiler said.
    There would be only one survivor that day. The resuscitation efforts to save 30-year-old Tabasha Paige-Criado and her four children, Elijah, 7, Isaac, 6, Andrew, 5, and Aurora, 2, were unsuccessful. Jordan Criado, 51, remains unresponsive and on a mechanical ventilator at Rogue Valley Medical Center, suspected of stabbing his family members and setting their home on fire.
    As Medford police detectives continue to investigate the largest homicide case in Jackson County's modern history, agency chaplains are making rounds to support the responders. Agency leaders are keeping a close eye on their crew members, watching for signs of what is known as "critical incident stress."
    People who voluntarily place themselves in harm's way to save others are brave. But they are also human, said Anne Kellogg, a therapist who specializes in working with emergency services personnel.
    The sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches these men and women experienced that day are fully imprinted on their brains. It impacts their psyches and can adversely affect their emotional, mental and physical health if not properly processed, she said.
    "Their injuries are invisible," she said. "They look fine, and they are fine, in many ways."
    But it will take time, space and understanding for them to recover from this kind of trauma, she added.
    "When you get a call, you are braced for what you expect you're going to find," Kellogg said. "But when it turns into something else, something like this, there is a greater vulnerability."
    About 50 men and women from area fire departments and 20 to 25 Medford police officers responded Monday, said police Lt. Bob Hansen.
    The vital work to help those who risk their lives serving others began Monday afternoon with a "defusing" session, said Bierwiler.
    During the crisis, responders rely upon their training to perform their duties, blocking their emotions to help maintain focus. But this can work against them afterward — when they inevitably relive the trauma, said Hansen.
    Members of the crew, in order of their arrival, discuss what they did and how they did it. Their minds, so narrowly focused on their specific tasks during the crisis, can now begin to process their feelings and their experience from a broader group perspective, Bierwiler said.
    "We're trying to literally defuse an emotional bomb," Bierwiler said. "It starts to make sense. It helps them process it better."
    "We go on these calls all the time," said Justin Bates, training chief for Medford Fire-Rescue. "It starts as a routine call, smoke in a building."
    Searching the smoke-filled house on 10th Street, crews soon discovered one bloody victim, then another, and another. Well before the sixth victim was removed from the residence, "it was pretty obvious to firefighters this was more than just an accidental fire," Bates said.
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