‘It was a horrific scene’: SAFD caring for first responders after migrant tragedy on Southwest Side

As of Wednesday, the death toll in this tragedy has risen to 53

SAN ANTONIO – As the survivors of the human smuggling tragedy are fighting to recover in the hospital, the San Antonio Fire Department is caring for their own, not just in the physical sense but also their mental health needs after witnessing the unimaginable scene.

“We’re not supposed to open up a truck and see stacks of bodies in there. None of us come to work imagining that,” SAFD Chief Charles Hood said.

The death of 53 migrants has left a lasting impression on the community and those who responded.

“It was a horrific scene, something I’ll never forget, and it will stick with us forever,” said Dr. Bryan Everitt, associate medical director of SAFD.

On Monday evening, 48 people died inside an 18-wheeler on the Southwest Side of San Antonio. There were 16 people taken to area hospitals. In the days following, five more people have died.

It’s a taxing toll on the first responders desperate to save them.

“You did exactly what you were trained to do. You did a great job,’ because they need to hear those things because they feel guilty about not saving more people,” Dr. David Miramontes, medical director of SAFD.

The rehab process started for the responding crews immediately on the scene Monday.

“We start that resiliency process right away. It’s critical,” said Joe Arrington, public information officer of SAFD.

Two days later, Arrington says that process is not over.

“We have a peer support team. It’s a bunch of firefighters that are trained and paramedics that are trained to do debriefings, to do counseling,” Arrington said.

The peer support team is made up of over 50 members with specialized training.

“They can, you know, encourage those conversations, getting it out there, not bottling it up and dealing with it in unhealthy ways,” Arrington said.

All of that is in addition to the psychologists and chaplains on staff.

Their help is needed as first responders deal with this tragedy and the shooting just over a month ago in Uvalde.

“We need to take care of ourselves because we cannot provide the service level that we are we want to provide without taking care of ourselves, too,” he said.

These resources are always there, always available no matter what. The department understands its jobs aren’t done until everyone is cared for, including each other.

“That’s how we’re going to be able to move forward as stronger and healthier as we’re all taking care of ourselves,” Arrington said.

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About the Authors:

Leigh Waldman is a news reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.

Gavin Nesbitt is a photojournalist and video editor who joined KSAT in September 2021. He has traveled across the great state of Texas to film, conduct interviews and edit many major news stories, including the White Settlement church shooting, Hurricane Hanna, 2020 presidential campaigns, Texas border coverage and the Spurs.