MCIs and “The Downwind Walk”

I never really considered doing book reviews on this blog or writing about specific horrific incidents either, but I finished reading “The Downwind Walk: A USAR Paramedic’s Experience after the Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001” by Steve Kanarian just hours before the shots rang out at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.  Let me say upfront that this will also probably not be the sort of book review you might expect, but I doubt the book will be what you expect it to be either.  The book at least, is much more than it appears.  Steve is a Paramedic, a retired FDNY EMS Lieutenant, and now I am happy to call him my friend as well.  He has given me a gift through his pain and I hope you will take it as well.

From the title I was expecting a journal of the messy details written by a “Forrest Gump”-type character who was always in the right place at the right time and would take me into the depths of the response that day.  What I discovered was an even more real experience than I imagined.  It was his exact experience including the hours and days of simply waiting to be of use.  Most surprising was that the greatest interest of the book for me became the continuation of his story long after the actual event and even after his final day working at ground zero.  It was the story of every first responder who is called to action at any Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) anywhere.

During my own initial training as an EMT, my instructor dutifully covered the section on stress management from the AAOS guide including Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) and without hardly a breath broke out of instructor mode and told us flatly that he was required to say all that, but that in reality it simply never happens.  I don’t know how it is in very many different services on this topic, but I suspect my instructor was not an anomaly.  As both a professional and as a human, my heart goes out to all of the responders in Aurora and elsewhere who have had to clean up the messes left by mass murderers.  I believe so strongly that they need to hear his story that I would be happy to send my own copy of the book to anyone who responded to the theater shootings if you cannot get a copy yourself.  I think it is genuinely that important.

Sure, it was clear that this was his first book and the publisher made some mistakes in the printing, but for me, the story was well beyond the words.  It was the call to action – not to help others, but to know your limits, understand yourself, and be willing to seek help when you need it.  Your value as a Paramedic, an EMT, a firefighter, or a police officer is not your strength but in recognizing your limits.  Thanks, Steve!

3 Comments

  • James Rosse says:

    I was on the Trade Center response, and we were debriefed, and I have been debriefed on other traumatic calls.

    It’s important to be debriefed by experienced personnel, who have been through something like what you have been through. At the end of my debriefing with non-fire/ambulance support folks, I found myself alienated and disappointed in the process.

    I am a peer-counsellor for my county’s CISM team, and I firmly believe that peers can talk to other peers better than they can talk to superiors or uninvolved clergy/social support staff.

  • daleloberger says:

    Thank you, James, I totally agree. And here is another article to state the case, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/17/us/colorado-mass-shooting-tested-an-er-staff.html?_r=1&smid=tw-share

  • Thank You for the kind words. I am honored to share the stories of those I worked with and tell the EMS 9/11 story form our “dusty boots” view. I am very proud to be an EMS professional and share this story with the next generation of EMS providers.

    I never believed PTSD was for me. I have seen some wild things in the Bronx. I can tell you PTSD is out there and we all have a trigger. Pleased to share and help other learn our lessons.

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