By Rob Evans
Dec. 17, 2012, Redwood Meadows, Alta. - Far too often, in the business we’re in, we all deal with tragedy and sorrow in the course of our jobs. Thankfully in Canada, this is very rare, but the events that unfolded Friday in Newtown, Ct., could certainly happen to any of us.
By Rob Evans
Dec. 17, 2012, Redwood Meadows, Alta. – Far too often, in the business
we’re in, we all deal with tragedy and sorrow in the course of our jobs.
Thankfully in Canada, this is very rare, but the events that unfolded
Friday in Newtown, Ct., could certainly happen to any of us.
Rightly so, the victims of the shooting have been the focus of news reports that have been non-stop since a 20-year-old allegedly killed his mother and then went to the local school and gunned down another 26 people including 20 little boys and girls. While watching the news, I started wondering what type of department served the area? Who were the first responders on scene?
First off, the people who are the first point of contact for any emergency service, are the 911 operators and dispatchers. Newtown operates its own 911 system and has two operators working 24/7. Being a 911 emergency communications officer for the City of Calgary, I can imagine what these people went through. Regardless of the event, callers are quite often excited and getting information out of them can be a challenge. The dispatchers in Newtown did an amazing job and deserve to be included with the responders below.
The Newtown Police Department has close to 50 sworn members and has been protecting the community of 26,000 since the early 1700s. Soon enough, state police, ATF, FBI and other law-enforcement agencies were headed to the scene. In the pictures and video seen around the world, there seemed to have been hundreds of police on the scene. For the investigators, I cannot imagine having to work around those little ones while they laid motionless. And for the photographer with the coroner’s office who had to focus in the faces of those violently taken from their loved ones so that they may be identified . . . how you will ever pick up another camera, I will never know.
The Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps has 70 emergency medical technicians and has been responding to emergencies in the town since the Rotary Club bought it a 1942 Cadillac Supreme ambulance. Responding to fire and rescue calls in the town are five fire companies with the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue Company, located just doors down from the school where innocent victims were taken from their loved ones just days before Christmas.
According to the Sandy Hook Fire & Rescue Co. website, the department is totally volunteer and was organized in June 1938. As with many fire departments in small towns throughout North America, Newtown counts on community volunteers to respond when people are in need. In its case, it has 59 active members, seven junior members, four support members, three fire police, and three members on military leave. The department is led by Fire Chief Bill Halstead, who has been a member of the department since 1965 and chief since 1978. The department’s ladies auxiliary offers support to the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue Co. How proud Chief Halstead must be, with the actions taken by his entire department under circumstances to which few of us can draw parallels. We all provide help to our firefighters after difficult calls, but the magnitude of this event will require that services be provided to all first responders for days, months and likely years to come.
President Barack Obama spoke of the first responders during his speech at a memorial service Sunday night in Newtown. Obama said, “And we know that good guys came, the first responders who raced to the scene helping to guide those in harm's way to safety and comfort those in need, holding at bay their own shock and their own trauma, because they had a job to do and others needed them more.” The families of all of the victims will undoubtedly need support but there will be lots said about that. For us, let’s keep our emergency services’ family in our minds and hearts.
Another group that often get overlooked are our friends in the media. While we have first-hand accounts of helping people in need, the media often has an arms-length connection with many of the heart-wrenching stories in which we are involved. Some believe that the media has a choice of what to report. Is that the reality though? Those reporting on the hard news of the day hear a call on the scanner and often respond on the heels of our crews. Day in and day out this happens, and often the next day on the kitchen table or pinned to a bulletin board in our stations, are the stories and pictures from the scenes. The noon-hour news is turned up to hear the latest on that fire last night or crews owe ice cream for getting that picture in the paper or on the tube.
I am in a unique situation, having being educated in and working in both the media and the fire department. I have seen many things through the viewfinder on my cameras, and my camera has been put down and I have helped responders as well. For me, I guess this is about loyalty to friends past and present. When the city editor and managing editor of a local daily newspaper tweet about how hard work in the newsroom was on Friday, I could believe them.
As difficult as it may be to tolerate the media when we are on these scenes, we need to be able to understand that their jobs are necessary. We, as responders, also need to recognize the healing that can come from the reporting of these very tragic events. If nothing else, the media will open a dialogue about mental-health issues and the heroism of everyday people. As President Obama said Sunday, “We know that when danger arrived in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary, the school's staff did not flinch. They did not hesitate.”
“As these difficult days have unfolded, you've also inspired us with stories of strength and resolve and sacrifice,” said Obama.
I hope that all those affected will keep the president’s words close to their hearts. You are all truly an inspiration, not just to the people of the United States, but to citizens around the world.
Rob Evans is the chief fire officer for Redwood Meadows Emergency
Services, 25 kilometres west of Calgary. Evans attended the Southern
Alberta Institute of Technology in 1989 and studied photojournalism. In
1992, he joined RMES after taking pictures of an interface fire and
making prints for the department. He has his NFPA 1001 level II
certification, NFPA 472 Operations and Awareness (hazmat), NFPA 1041
level I (fire service instructor), Dalhousie University Certificate in
Fire Service Leadership and Certificate in Fire Service Administration
and is a registered Emergency Medical Responder with the Alberta College
of Paramedics. He lives in Redwood Meadows with his wife, a
firefighter/EMT with RMES, and three children. Follow him on Twitter at