Nightly News   |  March 30, 2014

The Emotional and Mental Toll on First Responders

They are the first ones on the scene to aid victims, but the scars they sometimes receive can cut deeply.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> holt: for eight days now, we´ve seen how difficult the recovery has been in washington state after that devastating mudslide, not only for the dozens of families involved but for the hundreds of rescuers taking part in the effort. we asked our chief medical editor, dr. nancy snyderman , to take a look at the impact of this kind of work on the first responders. [ goat bleats ]

>> snyderman: goat farmers jeff and jan mcclelland have been volunteer firefighters in darrington, washington, for the last five years. but nothing prepared them for what they faced this past week.

>> jan: when we got to this particular incident, you couldn´t even fathom what had happened.

>> snyderman: one of the worst landslides in u.s. history .

>> jan: people can be gone so fast. just tell the people that you love that you love them and hold them close.

>> snyderman: first responders, like the mcclellands, risk their lives to try to save others, and experts say their wounds also run deep.

>> goodman: in some ways, your whole system is overwhelmed by the stress. you can feel helpless that you can´t do enough to save people.

>> snyderman: the responders put their own needs aside when disaster strikes -- people like paramedic tony mccarty, whom we met last may in moore, oklahoma...

>> man: oh, my god!

>> snyderman: ...when an ef5 tornado cut through his community, killing 25 people. mccarty was one of the first on the scene.

>> mccarty: there is nothing good to say about holding a lifeless child in your hands. you hurt for the family.

>> snyderman: this is the side of first responders that people don´t get to see. but when they save lives, it´s a reminder why they make the sacrifice.

>> man: one, two, three.

>> snyderman: when a devastating earthquake struck haiti four years ago, killing more than 316,000 people, the los angeles county fire department answered a call for help .

>> cross: when you pull somebody out alive, regardless of the circumstances, they´re all tough, but it´s remarkable.

>> goodman: as difficult as all these things are, the reality is that there is a part of some people that go through this that develop new meaning in their life.

>> reporter: back in washington, jeff and jan mcclelland continue to help in the search, masking their pain...

>> jan: you don´t take the time to deal with it right now, because we -- i feel like we don´t have time to deal with it right now.

>> snyderman: ...when so many have yet to be found.

>> jeff: we keep on going because we´re going to bring closure to families.

>> snyderman: still searching for the missing and the will to stay strong. dr. nancy snyderman , nbc news.