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Critical Incident Response Team January 4, 2011

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“Crisis intervention is emotional first aid, everyone responds differently to stress. Individuals may experience harsh stressful events requiring urgent help for a range of emotional reactions suffered, others’ reactions are instead delayed continuing for weeks or months”, states Kay Bottolfson.

Fernie resident Kay Bottolfson, Critical Incident Response Team

A registered nurse now retired and half- time pastor at Elk Valley Congregational Church, Kay moved to Elkford in 1989 with husband Paul, also a minister. The eight member Elk Valley Critical Incident Response Team of which Kay is a member includes a firefighter, a paramedic, a retired RCMP officer, a school counselor and a teacher of mine first aid.

EVCIRT began in 2000 by a request from Fernie Fire Department and a family who had experienced trauma. Novice volunteers need Crisis Intervention and Peer Support training, Basic and Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management plus other advanced courses including suicide prevention, intervention and postvention. In addition Kay has Pastoral Crisis Intervention and Grief Following Trauma. Critical events are described as “Any life-crisis or disaster, man-made or natural. Determining factor is the degree of trauma involved, physical and or emotional for victims, rescuers, interveners and family members such as in slayings, traffic accidents that include death, school shootings and industrial accidents.”

Informational material states that “Debriefing or defusing provides earliest intervention into potential health hazards; it promotes a letting go of emotions, provides an atmosphere of social support and allows for evaluation of personal conduct during the event as well as subsequent reactions. It also promotes management/employee bonding, enhances morale, provides for an operational overview of the incident and assists in preparing for future events and is cost effective.

The following are general reactions of a critical incident, immediate-flashbacks, shock, anxiety attacks, panic, terror and fear, disbelief, feeling numb, inability to focus, anger-rage, exhaustion, excitation. Delayed reaction includes depression, inability to concentrate, alcohol and drug dependencies, short temper, family breakdown, mood swings, daydreams, nightmares, panic attacks, fear, preoccupation with event and withdrawn /isolated. Kay say symptoms can last days, weeks or months. Usually understanding and support given to those suffering makes the symptoms pass faster. “Talking is most healing, it’s all right to talk about what affects strongly such as death or accident, when it’s overwhelming we must recognize what’s happening and take time off”, she says. Adding that “experiencing a critical incident puts bodies into flight or fight mode, a chemical cocktail of adrenaline, cortisol and glucose helps to fight, time stands still, we breathe faster, pulse goes up, this puts stress on the body.

People need to recognize what’s happening and take time off, mostly people feel they’re okay, but symptoms show up in other ways like the misuse of alcohol, food, drugs, abusive relationships or just shutting down”.

In June 2010 an instructor was brought from Calgary to do a two day course on Critical Intervention and Peer Support, Kay said that the group got to practice different scenarios. “This training gives confidence on how to do things and how to interact with people”. Kay makes it clear they don’t critique an operation “We give information on emotional responses that people may have to deal with, and we go in on invitation”. Everything is confidential, the team will listen first, inform later, the purpose is not to find fault or place blame,” everyone’s experience is important”, Kay says.

EVCIRT would like new members to join the team, if interested call Kay at 250 865-2675 for information and applications. This is very valuable and needed work, a way to make a difference; Kay says in the past they responded to Cranbrook during the helicopter crash and to a drowning in Fairmont. Thanks go to the members of the team who come from Fernie, Elkford, Sparwood and Jaffray.