Tragic calls take toll on disaster crews

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LONDON. January 29. KAZINFORM The dead can't speak. Their cell phones do.

And, for police, firefighters and paramedics, the incessant chirping, bleating and incongruously cheerful boom box beats of victims' cell phones comprise a soundtrack of disaster.

It happened at the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, a commuter train crash in Los Angeles the next year, the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado, last July and, again, at the night club fire in Brazil that killed 231 people on Sunday.

The incessantly ringing phones and the realization that someone is desperately trying to reach someone else who is now dead, short-circuits the psychological defenses first responders need to do their jobs, said Jim Crabtree, a registered nurse who helps train them for the Los Angeles County Emergency Management Services Agency.

"It starts ringing and it becomes an instant reminder that this person is human, that they have friends and family who care," he said.

It also leaves responders with an uneasy feeling they're keeping a secret from the victim's loved ones, Crabtree said.

Crabtree first ran across the issue following the Virginia Tech shooting , in which a lone gunman, a student, killed 32 people.

Some first responders couldn't get the sound of ringing cell phones out of their ears, psychologists Christopher Flynn of Virginia Tech and Dennis Heitzmann of Penn State wrote in a follow up journal article.

"As police and rescue workers removed the bodies of the deceased and evacuated the survivors, they reported haunting memories of cell phones ringing in body bags as parents and friends desperately called their loved ones."

Los Angeles first responders dealt with the same issue when a commuter train collided with a freight train in 2008.


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