Driving with lights and siren is one part the job that has become second nature after all of these years. As a traffic officer, it’s not uncommon to go Code 3(lights and siren) numerous times in a shift. It’s just part of my work day.
The first time I drove Code 3 was something I will never forget. It’s not for the reasons you’re thinking though. It wasn’t about driving fast, going through red lights or even driving on the wrong side of the road.
I remember it because of what I saw after I arrived at the call……….
In the spring of 1995, I was in the fourth week of my training, when I was given the key to the police car for the first time as an officer. It was one thing to be a new officer in the passenger seat, but it was an entirely different experience to be in the driver seat as a Boot (new guy).
One morning at about 7AM when we were dispatched to a 901T (injury traffic collision) in the southwestern part of the city. I don’t remember the exact call details, but I knew it was my chance to drive Code 3 for the first time. This was a big deal because kids dream of this and adults wonder what it’s like to be the one going through the intersection with the lights and siren, whether it’s a police car or fire truck.
I turned to my FTO and asked, “Do I go Code 3?” He was an older officer in his fifties, who had been on the job for thirty years. He nodded his head approvingly and replied, “Go ahead.”
I activated my lights and the sound of the siren wailed as I started toward the call. I remember thinking to myself how cool it was because this is what police officers do and I was finally doing it.
I tried not to drive too fast since this was my first time and I didn’t want to make a mistake in front of my FTO (field training officer). I can’t remember how far I drove, but I got to our call in one piece.
I parked my patrol car and saw three vehicles in the middle of the street, which looked like they had been thrown into the middle of a playroom by a two year old. The cars were smashed up and I couldn’t figure out how they had ended up like that. The damage to all three vehicles didn’t make sense and it looked like a war zone.
That’s when I saw a man and woman lying in the street. The man’s entire face was covered in blood, which dripped off of him like a rain soaked plant in the Amazon during a downpour.
With a pleading look, he extended his bloody hand up to me as he begged for help, but not a sound came from him. It was as if he had just been punched in the stomach and there was no air left for him to give.
Time seemed to stand still. There was not a sound around me as I stood helplessly over his bloody and broken body, as he gazed up to me with eyes that I can still see after all these years. It was at that moment I remember saying to myself, “What did I get myself into?”
I then looked at the lifeless body of the woman lying in the middle of the street. I thought to myself, “Wow, this is horrible.” One of the drivers was a 17 year old girl, who stood on the sidewalk with her arms crossed as she cried. She had the look of disbelief as she took in the scene that was in front of her. I remember feeling bad for her because this was shocking to see and she was part of it. Her car had struck these people, who were now lying in the street.
The morning sun had been low in the horizon when this girl had driven upon a collision scene while on her way to school. She had not seen the original crashed cars or the people standing in the street.
After things had settled down, I assisted with traffic control while the traffic officers arrived to investigate the collision. I remember wondering how they could make sense of the carnage and chaos that was in front of me.
Four years later, I would be that traffic cop at the collision scenes, trying to make sense of the chaos, while handling the call with the confidence that comes with experience. With that experience, I’ve gotten used to what once shocked me on my very first Code 3 run. Back then I was an idealistic, wide-eyed, 23 year-old Boot, who didn’t know anything about this job.
Now each night, I load the patrol car with my gear, wondering what chaos the next Code 3 run will bring me. With certainty, I can fondly look back on how far I’ve come in the last twenty years, in this journey and adventure called police work.