Although it is their job to help people in times of need, traffic accidents involving teenagers and young children are tough on emergency response personnel. It becomes especially difficult when responding to more than one accident scene in a brief period of time, like what happened last weekend when two local teenagers died within 14 hours of each other in traffic accidents.
Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton, who was at both scenes, said it is the toughest part of the job for many officers, whether they have families or not.
"Anytime there is an accident it can be difficult for officers on the scene, but it really becomes hard when there are young people involved," Heaton said. "And this past weekend, so close to the holidays, the tragic deaths of two young people makes it even more difficult. This type of situation affects not only those involved directly with the accident, but the community as a whole."
Losing a family member in a traffic accident 20 years ago helps Brazil City Police Chief Terry Harrison not only understand the pain and grief families endure but also how an officer's personal experiences can affect them after the job is done.
"No officer wants to respond to an accident scene, but it's our job," Harrison said. "An officer does his job first and then lets the thought process come later."
Informing the victim's family is also a difficult process for many officers to deal with.
"It probably has to be on the top of the list of the hardest things a law enforcement officer will ever do in their career," Harrison said. "You knock on that door to tell the family their child has been killed in the softest, easiest way you can, but there really isn't a way to do that. There is a real helpless feeling that comes over you. You offer whatever help you can, but you know there is nothing you can really do."
Counseling is available for officers at both departments and for local emergency response personnel, but both Heaton and Harrison say the camaraderie and support from fellow officers is strong medicine during and after crime/accident scene debriefings. For many, the solace among fellow officers who have been in the same situations is enough.
"But, if an officer needs more help, then we will get them what they need to get better," Harrison said. "It's our job to be there when we're needed."
For emergency response personnel, it is a job they are prepared to do, but hope they won't have to. With the winter weather and the holidays coming, Heaton urges drivers, young and experienced, to take precautions on the roadways.
"People really need to pay attention while they are driving more than ever," he said. "No family should have to have that knock on their door. No parent should have to endure that tragedy."