Family, first responders try to recover after tragic fire

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A deadly fire in Portsmouth over the weekend has impacted people all over Hampton Roads. While the victims’ family tries to cope with the loss, first responders are working to manage the stress.

Since spoke to them on Saturday, the Douglas family has been staying very close to their family for support. On Wednesday, only 10 On Your Side was allowed in the house to see just how close the parents were to their children.

“We lost everything,” Orlando Douglas said.

Piles of soot covered clothes, charred furniture and debris. That is what’s left of the home where 9-month-old twins, Rahliel and Rachel Douglas, and their cousin, 3-year-old Marcell Speller, lost their lives Saturday. The twins’ father, Orlando, saw the inside for the first time Wednesday. It was an experience hard to explain.

“Heavy, to go downstairs and see the charred remains of cribs that I put together myself and to see my children’s clothes burned and melted down to nothing,” he said.

Orlando and his wife were sleeping on the couch, just steps away the room where their babies slept. His nephew, Marcell, was down the hall. Smoke woke the adults. At the house Wednesday, Orlando couldn’t help but think about things destroyed.

“Its a heavy, heavy moment. Social security cards for children destroyed. The first letter I ever wrote to my wife charred and burned,” he said.

Since the fire, the community and people all around the country have been generous. As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, a GoFundMe online account had raised $20,000 in donations for funeral expenses. The family is overwhelmed and grateful.

Wednesday night, dozens of people gathered at a vigil to remember the three children killed in the fire. They lit candles, prayed and sang.

“A lot of them don’t even try to take credit for what they give because I’ve seen more anonymous giving than giving with a title, and that speaks volumes to me about people who don’t want to be seen,” Orlando said.

The tragedy in the home on Pennock Street will also not soon be forgotten by the firefighters who recovered the children trapped inside. On Saturday, half of the entire Portsmouth Fire Department worked to get the fire under control. A day after the devastating fire, crews underwent a critical incident stress management debriefing to help them cope with what they experienced.

“Its a combination of talking about the incident, talking through it, and education about stress and what the stress is and how to manage it,” said James Chandler, executive director of the Tidewater Emergency Medical Services Council.

Because of privacy, he wouldn’t talk specifically about the first responders involved with the Pennock Street fire, but said signs of stress after a traumatic event like this could range from poor concentration, feelings of guilt, and sleeplessness. Some things may not always easy to identify.

“[They] would be more likely to be sensed by people that are close to you. Just you are not acting quite like you would normally act in a typical day,” Chandler said.

He said there are 52 volunteers available 24-hours-a-day to help first responders, but he admits they are rarely called. On average throughout all of Eastern Virginia, he said they get one to two calls a month. However, just because they aren’t called doesn’t mean they are not needed.

“We are aware that the incidents of burnout and suicide, unfortunately, through public safety workers is high. So, that is an indirect indication for the potential for stress issues and the need for stress management,” Chandler said.

Here’s a link to the Tidewater Emergency Medical Services Council, Inc.:

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