'I lean on my faith and firefighter family:' First responders cope after trying to save 3-year-old's life

DURHAM, NC (WTVD) -- For Jason Ruger and David Mangum, the decision to become first responders was an easy one.

"It takes a special breed of person to be a firefighter - somebody who wants to help no matter what the cost is," Ruger said.

Both have served for more than 20 years in Durham's Fire Department.

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Raw video: Firefighter Jason Ruger describes the emotional whirlwind.

"It doesn't even seem like work sometimes," Mangum said. "You get to hang out with the crew, talk, laugh, joke around - it's like another family."

Both also work part-time for the Bahama Fire Department in the community where they both grew up.

"As a high schooler starting in it, it's the adrenaline rush, it's the excitement of the lights and sirens," said Mangum, who started volunteering in Bahama as a 16-year-old. "Then it evolves to just wanting to help out."

Ruger and Mangum were two of six firefighters from Bahama who responded to Rougemont Road on Monday where they did what they could to try to rescue a 3-year-old girl from a creek behind her house. Unfortunately, she passed away at Duke University Hospital on Tuesday night.

"There is no way to train to mentally prepare yourself for this," Ruger said. "You train hard to make a difference in this type of a call, but mentally there's no way to train."

Mangum and Ruger knew they were dealing with a child on their way to the call - both said the adrenaline level kicks in upon hearing that.

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"I couldn't fathom what they're going through," Jason Ruger said.

Ruger and his family also live a half mile from the scene.

"My kids run those woods, they know this area," he said. "It's been tough to ride by. I've been wanting to stop in but I know I can't right now, it's not the right thing to do. My kids are close to that little girl's age and I couldn't fathom what they're going through."

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Firefighter David Mangum on training for situations, especially involving children.

Mangum said these types of incidents are important to talk about. He said he also can cope with what he saw "by knowing that we did everything we could to help."

"I lean on my family, my faith in Christ and my firefighter family," he said.

Durham County said it will doing an autopsy on the girl Thursday.
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