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Children pose biggest challenge for first responders

Posted at 6:24 PM, May 22, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-22 18:24:15-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- For a twenty-mile long path in Moore there is nothing but widespread devastation and death. Giant swaths of Oklahoma are transformed forever. They are images unimaginable to even the most veteran of first responders.

“Certainly dealing with children. Those are the toughest to deal with. That’s hard to handle.” Richmond Fire Marshall David Creasy has 45 years of fires and catastrophe under his belt.

“They went to shelters and they went to low areas, covered each other and they still passed away," he said."The storm was that horrific. You take a piece of that with you away from the scene.”

Creasy says despite top-notch training the magnitude of the Oklahoma tornado will no doubt cause lasting effects for his fellow first responders on the ground in Oklahoma.

“Some people saw it happen. And coming to grips with that is going to take a while,” Creasy said/

In years past it was commonplace for first responders to keep their emotions in check. But now professional help is available and firefighters and other emergency personnel are encouraged to share what they’ve seen and experienced with each other.

“I think we realize that we need help. And that we’re not as big and bad as we think we are,” Creasy said.

Richmond Ambulance Authority’s and Army veteran Dempsey Whitt witnessed countless traumatic events serving in Afghanistan.

“Nothing I’ve seen in combat I think could prepare you for the devastation they are seeing out there," Whitt said. "Seeing that devastation is like where do you begin. When you get back to the station. Sitting around talking one on one. Talking in small groups that is how we process this.”

Whitt says no doubt the tornado will change his fellow rescuers as much as the landscape.

“So those responders what they thought as normal may never be normal for them again,” Whitt added.

First responders remain on the front lines lending a helping hand but over time an event like Oklahoma will take its toll.

“Whether we’re dealing with a fire fatality or a tornado we have a job to do. We’re committed to that job and we’re going to do that job,” Creasy said.

Stay with CBS 6 News and for complete coverage of the road to recovery in Oklahoma.