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Reporting tragic news is a solemn responsibility

After the loss of a friend, my reflection on the role of news in grieving


Mount Moran is the 4th highest peak in the Teton Range, rising to 12,605 feet in elevation. Sickle Couloir lies on the mountain’s northeast face

image courtesy National Park Service

Every day we share news stories of tragic and unexpected death. As we post and share, and as EMS1 readers comment on those news stories, I remind myself that the deceased is always someone’s son or daughter, spouse or significant other, mom or dad, best friend, and co-worker.

Some of the people that survive bear the burden of the tragedy and come to EMS1 and other news outlets as part of their grieving process. We take seriously our responsibility to empathize with those who are grieving, share without sensationalizing, and create opportunities for professional discussion or remembrances without making light of tragedy.

The death of Luke Lynch, a ski mountaineer killed by a Wyo. avalanche, is personal to me.

I have known Luke since we worked together at a summer camp in northern Wisconsin 20 years ago. We share an overlapping network of experiences and friends, a network which is now discussing the news and remembering him as a friend and father.

When I last spoke with Luke more than a year ago, I shared with him how much I cared about him and appreciated him. I had just finished reading “Riding Through Grief,” a deeply personal account written by their mother Barbara Manger about the death of his younger brother Matthew in a bicycling accident. His death, too, was personal; I was Matthew’s trip leader on a sea kayaking expedition. I was moved by all this wonderful young man had accomplished and all the unrealized possibilities that were in front of him.

The heartache and pain I feel right now is not unique. It’s what any of you might feel when a tragedy strikes in your circle of friends and co-workers. Whether it is the fall of a flight nurse from a helicopter, a medic who collapses during a call, or a firefighter/EMT killed in a vehicle collision, an unexpected death is always personal. And especially personal for the family, friends, and co-workers closest to the deceased.

At EMS1 we share news of tragic incidents because we believe many EMS providers have a professional curiosity about mechanisms of injury, the nature of illness, and efforts to stave off the loss of life. Perhaps that interest informs the care we might provide if we face a similar situation. Maybe it is an interest in what our colleagues - our EMS brothers and sisters - are called on to do in different environments. Avalanches don’t happen in Chicago and medics in Jackson Hole aren’t likely to have their ambulance stolen by a knife-wielding patient.

News items, though rightfully focused on the ill and injured, are also an opportunity to recognize the rescuers. After Luke’s companion called 911 a rescue effort, involving several of my EMS friends and dozens of other personnel, commenced to reach him and his companions. Despite austere conditions and difficult terrain I am confident they did their best to reach and care for the group.

The churn of one tragedy after another takes its toll on all of us. Being physically and logistically ready for the next incident is not the same as being mentally prepared. The rescuers, as they recover from this incident and prepare for the next incident, are in my thoughts as well.

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1 and EMS1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on Twitter or LinkedIn and submit an article idea or ask questions with this form.

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