Firefighters shaken by fiery, deadly Sevier Co. church van wreck

Firefighters shaken by fiery, deadly Sevier County church van wreck

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"We all gathered around and talked about the incident, not what happened, but our feelings about it," Chief Kevin Nunn said. "We all gathered around and talked about the incident, not what happened, but our feelings about it," Chief Kevin Nunn said.

By HAYLEY HARMON
6 News Anchor/Reporter

SEYMOUR (WATE) - The Sunday morning church van collision in Sevier County that claimed two lives was so severe, some of the firefighters who responded had to have counseling.

Multiple departments were called to put out the Cedar Grove Baptist Church van fire after it was hit head-on by an SUV.

The Seymour Volunteer Fire Department was one of the first on the scene, just minutes after the wreck.

Fire Chief Kevin Nunn says they have several new firefighters, and the scene was almost more than they could take.

Members of the department are still trying to make sense of what they saw, even though they knew on the way there it was bad. "Us in the fire truck, we saw it from three miles away. We saw the column of smoke," Chief Nunn said.

They saw the church van wrapped in flames 20 feet high, with people trapped inside.

"Bystanders had been pulling most of the children out and the driver was entangled. They couldn't get him out," Nunn said.

The size of the blaze, coupled with the knowledge that two people were trapped, proved to be too much for some of the department's rookie members.

"We had some breaking down crying because they knew the families or the patients or couldn't take all that in," Nunn said.

To help them deal with their emotions, a critical incident stress team came to the station Sunday night to meet with each firefighter.

"We all gathered around and talked about the incident, not what happened, but our feelings about it," Nunn said.

Despite disaster training, Chief Nunn says it's hard to prepare for the first real scene.

6 News spoke with one of those new firefighters. Although he said he was not yet ready to go on camera, he described he was feeling.

The firefighter said he was shocked by the intense heat that forced him back from the burning van. He also said he felt helpless seeing all the injured passengers and wanting to get to them, but knowing he couldn't. He said the stress debriefing helped some, but it's going to take a while to fully process the wreck.

Nunn says they'll keep checking on the firefighters throughout the week to determine if they need to do another session. He says he anticipates they'll need another one in the coming weeks.

Fifteen members of the Seymour Volunteer Fire Department responded to the scene, along with three fire trucks.

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