5-year-old’s death weighs heavy for firefighters that rescued her

MEDFORD, Ore.– The death of a 5-year-old girl from east Medford, involved in a disastrous apartment fire, has shaken a community who was hoping she might recover from severe injury.

In a post on the family GoFundMe page, Olivia was placed on life support on Saturday after her heart had stopped. Family members later confirmed she passed away sometime after that over the weekend.

Outpourings of thoughts and prayers, tears of empathy, and heartfelt wishes to the family echoed across social media, many saddened by the tragic news. None more so than the firefighters who risked their lives and pulled Olivia and her 3-year-old sister Amelia out of the burning building at Cedar Tree Apartments.

“It can affect guys significantly when something like this happens,” said Deputy Chief Justin Bates, Medford Fire-Rescue. “We can’t save everybody. But we want to. So just that weighs on you.”

While the death of a child is hard for anyone, it’s hit hardest for the crew from Medford Fire-Rescue that pulled her from the flames. Speaking on their behalf Deputy Chief Bates understands that grief.

“Sad and tragic thing for everybody and them included,” he said. “They get personally and emotionally involved in these calls when they are needed so it’s hard on them.”

Bates says that as firefighters they try their best to separate work and emotions during a call. It’s the days after that weigh heaviest.

“We feel a little bit of burden on ourselves,” said Bates. “There’s always those questions, ‘Were we able to do just a little bit more?'”

Many of the firefighters are fathers themselves said Bates and rescuing children that may be the same age as their own creates the realization of what it might be like to be on the receiving end of such a tragedy. Even a single tragedy is difficult enough to deal with but unfortunately, in this line of work, there’s always more than one.

“You know, we had about a 100 firefighters a year on average that would die in fires or traffic accidents, that kind of thing,” said Bates. “Now the suicide rate has exceeded that.”

According to a report commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation, it revealed that first responders are more likely to die from suicide than in the line of duty. In 2017, 103 firefighters committed suicide due to mental illness – PTSD or depression – from being around the “constant exposure to death and destruction.”

It’s an issue that stations across the country are working to address even locally. Medford Fire-Rescue has given the crew that rescued Olivia the time they need to process this as well as any additional support if needed.

But sometimes, the solution can be as simple as a hug. Last week, Amelia came to visit the crew with her grandparents. She brought cookies and gave each of them a hug as a “Thank You” for saving her life.

“Those kind of things just lift us up and really give us that energy to go on the next day and do the job that needs to be done,” said Bates.

Another day, another life saved. Yet, the one that couldn’t be saved won’t be forgotten. For the crew, that name is Olivia Chapman.

“We try to build up this wall and we try to not get emotionally involved,” said Bates. “But we’re all human beings just like everybody else and so it affects us as well.”

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