Beyond the horrors of blazing flames
Fires can be life-changing events that leave deep emotional scars on those who experience them. It is critical to provide a safe space and environment in which those individuals can process their emotions and find ways to move forward
"Some nights I wake up and howl in pain" these are the words of a survivor of a horrible fire incident at Sitakunda upazila, where at least 51 people, including ten firefighters, lost their lives in 2022.
Fires can be life-changing events that leave deep emotional scars on those who experience them. Let us pause for a moment to consider this. In what circumstances does jumping from the top floors of a burning building seem better than staying in a burning building and waiting for help? The trauma of seeing death up close, the moment when nothing matters more than survival. How terrifying is it to choose between death by fire or injury with little chance of survival?
From the fear and trauma of the event itself to the long-term effects on mental health and well-being, fire incidents can profoundly impact individuals and communities. In this write-up, I shall delve into the minds of fire victims and survivors and, in the process, explore the complex range of emotions and psychological experiences they may face. I will also talk about what can be done to help them cope with the tragedy.
It is crucial to acknowledge that the effects of a fire accident can extend far beyond physical damage to property. A fire incident can cause feelings of fear, helplessness, and trauma in many people that can last long after the event has passed. These emotions can be intensified if individuals have lost loved ones or been injured in the fire. Furthermore, the financial burden of rebuilding and replacing lost possessions can also contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety, making it difficult for individuals to move on from the event.
Fire survivors may experience a wide range of emotions, including fear, shock, grief, and survivor's guilt. It may be difficult to combat the event's trauma, replaying it in their minds and struggling to come to terms with what happened. Survivors may also suffer from physical injuries such as burns or smoke inhalation, which can aggravate their psychological distress.
In addition, survivors may feel isolated and alone in their experience, as they may be unable to fully communicate the magnitude of their trauma to others who may not understand. This sense of isolation can exacerbate the healing process by making it difficult for survivors to connect with others and find comfort.
On the other hand, victims of fire hazards who have lost everything may experience a sense of shock, disbelief, and a feeling of being overwhelmed. They may struggle to process the intensity of their loss, feeling helpless and alone in the aftermath of the disaster. Victims may also be burdened with grief as they mourn the loss of their homes, possessions, and, in some cases, loved ones. For them, the emotional impact of a fire can be long-lasting, with the trauma continuing to impact them long after the flames have been extinguished.
Some people may experience rage, resentment, and bitterness as they face the injustice of what has happened to them. Others may experience feelings of guilt and shame, believing that they could have done something differently to prevent the fire from happening.
Fires are frequent in Bangladesh, often leading to loss of life and property damage. For example, in 2022 alone, there were 24,102 reported fire incidents, with 98 deaths across Bangladesh. In response to such incidents, the survivors, families of victims, and experts have frequently called for improved safety measures and stricter enforcement of building codes. They have also demanded compensation for the damages caused.
However, much work still needs to be done to ensure fair compensation and the safety of workers and the public in Bangladesh. "I don't really expect any compensation because I've never heard of victims receiving compensation," said Hasan Habib, another survivor of the 2022 Sitakunda fire incident.
In either case, whether survivors or victims, it is important to recognise the value of both financial and emotional support in the recovery process. We must provide appropriate assistance and resources to help individuals cope with these immediate emotional responses in the aftermath of a fire incident. It may come in many forms, from counselling to group therapy to support from friends and family.
It is critical to provide a safe space and environment in which those individuals can process their emotions, work through the trauma, and find ways to move forward. This can include access to mental health professionals, support groups, and financial assistance programs.
Ultimately, the psychological impact of a fire can be complex and multifaceted, with the trauma affecting each victim and survivor differently. By acknowledging the emotional impact of these events and providing support for those who have experienced them, we can help survivors and victims to heal and find a path toward recovery.
Faiza Tasnim Khandaker is an aspiring writer and researcher. She is currently working as a Project Support Assistant at the Centre for Peace and Justice, BRAC University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.