Ready or Not #106: Know Yourself in a Crisis

Have you ever wondered how you would react in a crisis?  Or how about afterward, when all is said and done and the “clean-up” has begun?  When I was sixteen years old, I was asked to baby-sit for a family of thirteen children. The oldest was 13 and the youngest was a week old.  The parents were going to be gone for about four or five hours. The kids were all pretty well behaved and being sixteen I thought I could handle anything.  Of course there is always the proverbial wrench that gets thrown into the works and that is exactly what happened that day.

The family had a pre-teen cousin that was visiting from another state. He was going to stay with them for the summer.  The only problem was that he wasn’t too thrilled about it.  You can imagine how much he wanted to listen to me, the babysitter -with no authority, at least in his eyes.  The other kids were playing with each other and I was trying to feed the baby when the visiting cousin came in the house and was looking really guilty and scared.  He wasn’t supposed to be outside, but I hadn’t caught him so I didn’t know why he was acting so weird.  I started asking him questions and finally he broke down and told me that he had been playing with sparklers, or some other kind of fireworks, out by the haystack and “a gust of wind pushed my hand against the haystack and it started on fire!”

Talk about the twilight zone!  I called all of the kids together and did a head count, gave the baby to the oldest child and told all of them to stay in the house and not move from that room.  This was in the pre-911 days and I lived out in the county and I really didn’t know who to call.  I ran outside to see how bad it was. It was pretty bad.  The haystack was indeed on fire and I would have just let it burn and tried to keep it from spreading, but it was stacked up against the barn where there was a lot of combustible items such as gas, diesel, grains and grain dust, tractors.  I hurried and turned the water on and started trying to put out the haystack fire and the small fires that were starting on the wooden eaves of the barn.

To make a long story short, a neighbor driving by saw the smoke and then noticed me trying to keep the fire at bay and he called the fire department in the next town and rounded up some neighbors to help contain the fire and to knock down the haystack.  Me?  I was as calm as a cucumber – until somebody else came and took over, then I just felt like collapsing into a heap on the ground.  I cried and cried.  I have had to go through a few other disasters that were life threatening to me, or others, and I have found that I keep pretty level headed until somebody else can take charge. Then, it’s all over for me.

My point is – don’t ever baby-sit for someone who has a haystack next to a building – and get to know yourself.  Know how you react in tense situations.  Be honest with yourself and if there is something that you think you would like to be better at handling, then practice until it becomes your strong point.  Become C.E.R.T. certified or take an E.M.T. class.

Also, know that once the crisis is over, that emotionally it is just getting started.  I didn’t want to baby-sit for a long time after that because I was afraid that something else would happen.  I had nightmares for awhile and when my dad would do the spring ditch burn, he would have to send me in the house because I was always putting the fire out before it finished burning the weeds.  Be prepared for the emotional aftermath of a crisis as much as you prepare yourself for the possibility of the emergency.  And get your water stored.

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