Oakland firefighter shares pain over loss of life after Ghost Ship fire

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Oakland's first responders are grieving with those who lost loved ones and also working through the trauma they're experiencing while they perform the grim task of combing through the charred Ghost Ship warehouse where 36 people were killed in a fire.

PHOTOS: Some of the victims of the tragic Oakland Ghost Ship fire

"We understand that that's part of our job, but it still takes a toll mentally," Oakland Firefighter Union President Lt. Dan Robertson said.

Robertson and his crew were the second on scene last Friday night. "At the time we obviously weren't aware there would be such a large loss of life, that's something you're never prepared for," Robertson said.

He tells ABC7 News situations like the Ghost Ship warehouse fire present a challenge when you're inside battling an inferno. "It keeps getting hotter and hotter, you have zero visibility, you're relying on your other senses. The sound of the fire burning above you and behind you towards your exit is in your mind," Robertson said.

For some of the first responders this was the first fire of this magnitude. "I could see it in some of the younger guys faces the other morning, there not sure how to deal with it," Robertson said.

Members of the Alameda County Sheriff's Office are also facing that dilemma. "When you get home, you just want to shut everything off and think and get your bearings right and then deal with your family, so that's the challenge," Alameda County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Ray Kelly said.

The first responders are being encouraged to get counseling. Robertson says he tells his firefighters it's the healthy way to handle post-traumatic stress. "It's not a sign of weakness if you need to talk. It's not a sign of weakness to get help," Robertson said.

"Every single person that was there that night is replaying in our minds, wondering if there was anything we could have done better," Robertson said.

Robertson and his crew will return to the scene Tuesday night.

If you are trying to locate a loved one, or need information call 510-382-3000.

Click here for all ABC7 News stories, videos, and photos from the Ghost Ship warehouse fire.
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