The call no one wants

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The call involved a child who was run over by a car in the driveway of her house. From the information at the scene this wasn’t going to end well.

I arrived at the hospital and parked my car knowing I didn’t want to go in. With each step toward the ER, I could feel something telling me to go in the other direction.

My sergeant was standing in the ER with a solemn look on his face. The toddler was lying lifeless in the bed with hospital staff doing what they could to save her.

Her father was wearing a blood stained shirt and a look of anguish on his face. I didn’t want to watch. I didn’t want to be there.

I could feel my heart beat faster as I looked at the child lying there. She was so small that it shocked me.

That’s when the doctor called it. I knew it was over because the father yelled out, “No!!!!!” He turned toward the wall and started hitting it as he yelled out.

You could almost feel the screams go through your body and grip your heart with  pain, suffering and grief.

How had this happened?

It was my call. The type of call no one ever wants to respond to.  Unfortunately this wasn’t the first child I’d seen run over by a family member.

I had to leave. I needed to get out of there.

I told my sergeant I was going to the collision scene to speak with the driver as the father held the lifeless body. He just screamed as he rocked back and forth with the body.  It’s an image that will stay with me forever.

I walked toward the exit as his screams shook the walls like an 8.0 earthquake.

A Repeat?

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On Tuesday night, I was dispatched to a dead body (927D) call at 5AM. When I arrived, I saw a male in his eighties on the floor of his room covered with a blanket. The fire department was there and said it appeared he’d passed away from natural causes.

I called the coroner and notified them of the death. Since there was nothing suspicious they didn’t respond. I was instructed to have the care facility call a mortuary to pick up the body.

Right before I left, a worker asked, “Can you help us put him in bed? We don’t want the family to see him on the floor.”

I reluctantly said, “Sure,” as I took gloves out of my pocket. What the heck. I might as well cross off, “Picked up dead guy and put him in bed” from my bucket list.

After I got my gloves on I grabbed the legs as two other people got the shoulders. On the count of three we picked him up and put him into bed.  As we picked him up the movie “Weekend at Bernie’s” popped into my head.

The next night was busy from the start. I hoped the day before Thanksgiving was going to be calm, but that all changed as soon as I went 10-8. The night flew by and didn’t calm down until around 4AM.

At about 5:30AM, I parked so I could finish my dead body report from the night before. I had just started typing when I was sent another dead body call.

A repeat? What were the chances of getting two in a row at this hour of the morning?

It was a good thing I was off the next day. No three-peat for me.

Be thankful for your family

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How many of us will go to Thanksgiving dinner and truly be thankful for what we have? Will you be thankful for the family around you today or will we go through the motions because that’s what you have always done?

On Wednesday afternoon, I dropped my daughter off at my mom’s house on the way to work. After I said goodbye, I drove down the street and stopped for the stop sign before making a right turn. While I was stopped, I saw a man sitting in a chair at the southeast corner.

The sight of the man made my heart ache as a father because I knew why he was sitting there. He was there because this was the spot where his son died many years ago in a traffic collision.

He was sitting in a chair in a small grass area next to his son’s memorial, which included a skateboard and pictures. He was alone with a book in his hand as he looked down, lost in his own thoughts as traffic went by. I have seen him here before over the years, along with a woman, who I assumed was his wife.

I watched him for a moment and couldn’t imagine the emptiness he felt. This was his spot to mourn a life that was taken away too soon. This was his spot to be close to last place his son ever stood on earth. This spot was his last connection to his son.

After I turned, I thought how different my Thanksgiving was going to be compared to this man and his wife. I’m sure they wished they could have one more Thanksgiving dinner together as a family with their son.

This is something to think about when you sit down to have your Thanksgiving dinner with your family. Take a moment and be thankful for the people around you because there are others who wish they had one more chance.

The call at the crematorium

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The other day, I was on my way to a collision call when dispatch broadcasted a panic alarm over the radio at a crematorium. Now, that in itself sounds weird. I wondered if someone wasn’t ready and hit the panic button to stop the process.

I was right around the corner from the call so I went there instead. I pulled my car to the curb just north of the location and didn’t see anything going on outside. I picked up the microphone and couldn’t resist as I said, “729, It looks dead out front. I’ll stand by for the follow.”

When the other officers arrived, we had dispatch call inside the business, but there was no answer. We then walked around the business as we checked doors. When we got to the rear we heard a loud bang come from inside. Now we knew at least one person was alive inside.

We knocked on the door a few times before a man opened it up. He was wearing a large reflective apron, two large pot holder style gloves that went up to his elbows and a hat with a face shield. There was also sweat pouring down his forehead. I could feel the heat coming from inside the location through the open door.

The man told us he was alone and didn’t realize the alarm had been set off by another co-worker, who just left.

I asked, “Is it hot in there?”

“Yes, it’s hot,” he said with a smile.

“Can we come in and look?” I asked.

“Sure.”

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We walked inside as the worker started telling us about the cremation process. The ovens were on one side of the room that you could feel the heat coming from. On the other side of the room there were three long cardboard boxes on a conveyor belt.

Off to the side there were six more boxes that were stacked on shelves. Next to that was a large refrigerator the size of the wall. The worker told us that each of the boxes had bodies inside that were waiting to be put into the ovens.

Within  a few minutes, we were done and we went back out to our patrol cars. Now, it was time for another call, but we had a story to tell for sure.

As officers, we’re used to dealing with dead bodies, but this was entirely different. The place had a weird feeling about it.

It was definitely not a place I ever thought I would get a tour of. In fact, I had no idea our city had a crematorium until that call. I had driven by this location many times over the years and had never seen anyone outside.

Thinking back, I guess it wouldn’t be the type of place where you saw a bunch of people hanging around.

This was more of a place where everyone was dying to get in.

The Highs and Lows of The Job

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Tonight was the perfect example of how one call can be a complete polar opposite of the very next.

I went to a call involving two tourist who just happened to crash into each other. This woman drove two hours to watch her granddaughter compete in a cheerleading competition today. She was on her way home when her vehicle was disabled in the collision.

She was now stranded far from home with no transportation. Taking a taxi was not an option. If she wanted a rental car she would have to go to the Orange County Airport because everything else was closed. That wasn’t going to work either.

She now needed a hotel room for the night. I told the woman I wasn’t going to leave her alone and I would drive her to whatever hotel she wanted to go to.

We were in front of the Double Tree Hotel, so she checked there first. They were having trouble finding her a room and it looked like I was going to drive her somewhere else.

While we waited, she showed me a competition photo of her granddaughter and she asked about my family.

The hotel finally found her a room and it was time for me to leave. The woman thanked me again for staying and not leaving her alone. She then asked, “Can I give you a hug?” I told her she could and we both smiled. She then gave me a giant hug and I left.

I was feeling pretty good after that because it’s not every day in this job that you have an interaction like that.

The very next call didn’t have the same happy ending.

I heard the call go out over the radio about a woman who was not breathing and a family member was performing CPR at that moment. I was close by and off I went with lights and siren.

I was hired in 1994 and graduated from the academy in February of 1995. Up until last summer I had never performed CPR on anyone except for the dummy at training.

Now I was en route to CPR attempt number three since August. The first two times didn’t work out for me or the victims. Now I was feeling apprehension and dread as I raced toward the house because I knew I was going to be the first one there.

When I pulled up to the house I was mentally prepared for what I was about to do. This was different than when I performed CPR the first two times.

I went into the upstairs bedroom and there was a woman in her mid-sixties lying in a hospital bed. A man was bent over doing chest compressions on his wife of forty-five years.

I then took over for him as he watched with hope. This didn’t look good, but I still had to try. She had a lifeless look on her face and some type of fluid was coming out of her mouth.

I was in an awkward position, but I kept pumping away as I waited for the paramedics. Two minutes seemed to take forever until they arrived. When they did, they hooked up a monitor and checked for a heartbeat.

She was flat lined and they pronounced her right there. They then pulled the sheet over her face and told the family they were sorry for their loss.

She was about the same age as the woman who just hugged me on the last call.

There was nothing else I could have done. I stood in the hallway as her husband called someone and said, “Mom’s dead.”

I felt kind of weird being there to hear him make that call since this was such a private moment. It took me back to when I told my kids that my father had passed away.

Now it was time for them to grieve for their wife, mother and grandma. It was also time for me to go to another call.

Tonight was the perfect example of the roller coaster ride we call police work.

This job is also just like Forest Gump and his box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get……

The Child Who Died On Me

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“He’s not breathing!”

That’s the first thing we heard as my partner and I exited our patrol car at a traffic collision last summer.

A group of people waved at us as they pointed to a child lying on his back. We went to the corner and there he was. His eyes were open and empty looking.

Ten minutes before, Matt and I were laughing and telling stories. Now I was standing over a dying child. I got on my knees hoping to feel a heartbeat and see him breathing. That hope was crushed as soon as I touched him.

“Do you feel a pulse?” I asked my partner as he touched the child’s neck.
“No.”

I keyed my radio and said, “I need units code 3 and fire needs to step it up. I have a 9 year old who is not breathing and we’re starting CPR!”

A memory was triggered as I started chest compressions.

For a brief moment I was sent back in time to a backyard pool two months earlier. The face of a sixteen year old flashed into my mind as I remembered performing CPR on him in the dark of night. I tried to save him, but he died.

Now I was performing CPR on a child, which I hoped never to do. With each chest compression I tried to push life back into him.

“Not again,” was all I could say to myself.

As I did the chest compressions, I made the mistake of looking into his eyes. I forced myself to look away and concentrated on the compressions. I couldn’t believe this was happening again.

I could hear people crying behind me and I wondered if his parents were watching.

At one point the child let out a breath. His eyes didn’t move, but his body did as the breath came out. The crowd behind me became hopeful. I expected he would wake up at any moment.

I stopped momentarily and said, “Come on buddy,” as I tried to feel a heartbeat from his chest. My partner had his finger on the child’s neck as he tried to feel a pulse too.

“You feel it?” I asked.
“No.”

I started the chest compressions again as I silently said, “Not again! Not again!”

I could hear the people behind me start to cry louder as the energy of the crowd seemed to fade. “Come on,” I said to myself.

I still believed I would win. I believed he would live. Then he made a breath sound again as his body moved.

I put my hand on his chest again as I said, “Come on buddy. Come on buddy.” I rubbed his chest like I was trying to wake him up from a deep sleep.

That was the last he would ever move again. It felt like I was at that pool all over again.

I was losing the battle with each passing second. I then glanced at his face one final time. His eyes were blank and lifeless still. Those eyes were already looking up to heaven.

I tried, but I lost……Again.

Other officers arrived to help, along with the paramedics. An officer asked if I wanted him to take over. I nodded and got up. The soul of that tiny body had angel wings now.

I walked away and never looked back. I never saw him get loaded into the ambulance. I think that was my way of moving on.

The self-doubt then started as I asked Matt if we did everything we could. I knew we had, but I needed to hear it. He replied we had.

After everything had calmed down it was just me and a few officers at the scene. I looked at the car where the child was sitting. The damage was violent and incredible. I knew he never had a chance. I also knew I never had a chance to save him either.

I made my peace in the middle of that intersection knowing there was nothing I could do.

I didn’t leave work until after sunrise. As I drove home, I thought about his parents and the pain they were going through. I also thought about my daughter, who was the same age. I couldn’t imagine losing a child.

A tear ran down my cheek at the thought of them being told he had died.

When I got home I sat in my car as I took off my sunglasses. The child’s face was in my mind for a brief moment. It seemed like I rubbed my eyes forever as I tried to erase the image.

I walked into the house and was grateful my family was safe. Everyone was sleeping and had no idea what dad saw tonight.

Hours before I was in the middle of chaos. Now I was home and all order was restored.

When I woke up, I made sure to give my kids an extra long hug.

The Death of a Child

A child’s death is never easy for the first responder, who has to experience it up close and personal. A friend at work related this personal and touching story about her experience at this type of call.

When she was sixteen, her 2-year old brother suddenly passed away. About eight years ago, this officer was working patrol and in her mid-thirties when she and a sergeant were dispatched to a call involving a dead child.

When she arrived on scene, she saw the child’s body in the bedroom and was instantly filled with the painful memory of her brother’s death all those years ago. The agonizing memory was made worse by the child’s family being there, which reminded her of how her mother had felt.

In that instant, the memory flashed into her head of performing CPR on her brother’s lifeless body as she tried to breathe life back into him. The memory of him lying in his coffin also flashed into her head like a bolt of lightning striking into her heart.

The officer had to get out of the house because she needed to separate herself from the situation. Distance was her friend and the only thing that was going to help her at this moment. Distance from the death, pain and grief that this house symbolized to her. She told the sergeant about her brother’s death and that she needed to be alone for a few minutes.

She quickly got out of the house and sat alone in her patrol car as she cried. She had no one to talk to at this painful and personal moment, which had just flooded back into her mind after seeing the dead child.

After a few minutes she composed herself and was ready to go back in. I asked her, “What did you do?” She replied, “I went back in. I had to handle the call.”

She went back into that house, which had been an emotional trigger and did what we’re supposed do. That was to be strong when others needed us to be.

All first responders have gone through similar emotions at one time or another while at work. Our job is not to stand by. Ours is to be strong, despite the tragedies we have experienced at work or in our personal lives.

This is what makes the first responders special. We are still doing the job that has to be done even though our emotions might be fighting an inner battle.

Stay safe