It is the 10-year anniversary of one of the longest nights of my life.
It starts with a 9-1-1 call, a just-occurred home invasion and homicide. Officers enroute Code 3 (bat-out-of-hell-speed in English). As they arrive, they see the suspect’s vehicle fleeing, and the officers pursue.
Dispatch is always a beehive of activity, and now it’s just been banged on with a stick. We’re calling surrounding agencies because the road they are on will intersect with a freeway in about a mile, and not long after that will enter another jurisdiction. It’s 4 in the morning, mind you, so the more law enforcement we can get the better. The four dispatchers on duty are going Mach 2 with their hair on fire. Radio channels are split to handle the pursuit and the officers responding from the rest of the city, another of us is on phones calling -everyone- and I am on an interagency frequency giving out the vehicle description and responding to other agencies who are now enroute.
The vehicle is stopping. Officers are calling their formation to approach.
“998-999 OFFICER DOWN!”
Shots fired–officer down.
Time sped up. Time stopped. Bullets were still flying.
At this point, everything important that was happening was out on that street where one of my officers was lying in the road bleeding, and another had already dived in front of bullets to drag him out of the line of fire, and then laid on top of him to protect him.
Officers became freaking superheroes in an instant, and a deputy from the Sheriff’s Office had shown up to get my officers to a place where the Fire Department could safely attend to him and get him transported to the hospital.
Other people, men who were there, can tell about what happened much better than I can.
What was happening on the other side of the radio was that four women were pouring their hearts and souls and doing everything they possibly could to get help to the scene, to make sure the right people knew what was happening, to call down the very angels of heaven to take care of their officers.
Eventually, things calmed down after the murderer had been shot until he stopped shooting, after the fallen officer had been transported to the hospital, after everyone else was accounted for as safe.
Deep breaths taken. Hands shaking, voices breaking but speaking so fast only other dispatchers could understand.
Then the not knowing. Was he okay? What about his vest? Where was he shot? Is he going to live?
Officers sometimes forget that even though the voices of their dispatchers are right there, their eyes are not, and that we didn’t know what was happening–and that we always imagine the worst. Eventually someone called and ended that agony.
I knew that the people sitting–well, mostly standing, now–around me, wouldn’t ask for a break to defuse a little. So I started sending them out, taking over their job for a bit so they could take a walk, breathe, and decompress a little. I started calling staff to come and relieve them because I knew we would need to have a short defusing session.
I was trained in Critical Incident Stress Management as part of a department-wide committee. I sat in and help to facilitate Critical Incident Stress Debriefings, but the reason why I wanted that training was to help my fellow dispatchers. This night was one of the times I thanked heaven that I was trained. I couldn’t erase what happened, but I could help as much as help can happen in these instances.
Sometimes I can hear the voices of my officers saying words that I had trained to respond to, but never really thought I’d hear. Sometimes I dream that I’m on the radio. Sometimes I’m standing in the road watching it happen, powerless to do anything. My car mysteriously slows down when I drive by the site.
I received a medal, as did everyone else who played a part in that call that day. I would give anything to never have earned it, to never have needed to earn it, but there it is on my shelf, reminding me of the heroes and the angels of that longest night.