The recent train derailment North of Melbourne, killing the train driver and pilot as well as injuring 11 passengers, has sparked conversations around the immediate and ongoing effects that these incidents have on the mental health of emergency services staff.
One passenger described the accident as “pretty horrifying” and said they “hung on for grim death”. Whilst another described the moment the train began to derail “… we were thrown out of our seats. The whole train derailed”.
Police described the latest derailment as a “miracle” that most of the passengers only suffered minor injuries, detailing the horrendous scenes they were met with on arrival.
Whilst the Victorian, New South Wales and Federal Government have released a joint statement advising “a range of support measures will be available to passengers, crew and their families”, one has to ask what support measures are put in place for emergency services personnel who were first responders to the horrifying scenes of the accident.
Dr Rickard, a passenger of the train stated that “there were people lying all over the place and we had to kind of make sure people weren’t injured” as they set up a triage at a nearby service station headed by paramedics. Whilst the paramedics were taking care of the passengers with minor injuries, police were left to remove the two deceased bodies “humanely looking after them as best they can”.
Our recent case study on two important pure mental harm cases examined the question of whether emergency services personnel were in fact witnesses to the event. In Wicks v State Rail Authority (NSW) (2010) 241 CLR 60, two police officers suffered post traumatic stress syndrome, nervous shock and major depressive disorder as a result of witnessing the aftermath of a derailment. The court concluded that there are cases where pure mental harm takes place over an extended period of time, highlighting the ongoing effects that witnessing someone being killed, injured or put in peril has on emergency services staff.