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FIREFIGHTERS STRUGGLE WITH KID TRAGEDIES

February 20, 2000

Phoenix Fire Department paramedic Lynn Whaley was sticking an IV into 2-year-old Logan Mestas when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw other firefighters pulling Austin Davis from the deep end of the swimming pool.

He flashed back, just briefly, to May 1997, when an 18-month-old boy was pulled dead from a west Phoenix canal.

''These calls kinda get etched in your brain,'' Whaley said. ''Not the entire incident, but bits and pieces. . . . These are innocent children. They are just kids.''

''There's certain things that you see that you're never going to forget,'' Battalion Chief Nick Brunacini said.

But how do firefighters cope when they come face to face with such tragedies as two boys not breathing in a swimming pool?

They do the job they've been trained to do, Brunacini said.

''If you let the human drama control you or drive you, you would be completely ineffective,'' Whaley said. ''You couldn't do this anymore.''

But afterward, when they go back to the station, firefighters deal with it in their own ways. Most take a break and for just a couple minutes, there is silence and everything seems to move in slow motion.

Some call home to check on their own kids. Others appear completely unaffected on the outside and sort it out in their own private way. Still others become quiet or go off by themselves for a while.

Whaley was so physically and emotionally exhausted by what happened to Austin and Logan that he went to bed early Monday night.

''We try to do what we can to alleviate pain and suffering,'' Whaley said, ''and sometimes, it just doesn't work out.''

Austin, 4, and Logan wandered into their grandmother's fenced pool by squeezing through a doggy door blocked by a license plate. Their grandmother fished Logan from the shallow end, but Austin sank, undetected for at least 10 more minutes, to the deep end. Austin died the same day. Logan died Friday.

For a long time after his first son was born 13 years ago, Capt. Dan Davis looked into the faces of children like Austin and Logan and saw his own boy staring back.

''I had to go back to the station and call home and tell my wife to grab my kids and hug them,'' Davis said. ''I still think about my kids, but I don't put their faces on it anymore. But your thoughts do find their way home after.''

Austin and Logan were the second and third children to drown in Phoenix this year. David Michael Busch, 18 months, drowned on Jan. 27 after he toddled through an open gate and into the family pool. The same Phoenix Fire Department crew responded to both calls.

It bears repeating, Whaley said, that people need to be diligent about watching their children. Always.

''It's not just water. Leave the water out of it,'' he said. ''Watch your kids.''

Austin and Logan will be buried together Tuesday. The brothers' family and friends have set up a fund to help pay expenses. The fund, under both boys' names, is at Bank of America under account No. 004672920983.

Reproduced with permission from:
The Arizona Republic
Byline: By Judi Villa
©Copyright 2000 Arizona Republic

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