“Expecting the UNexpected”….which is never easy for any of us….requires ALL of us to be constantly alert, aware and paying attention.
On Tuesday evening June 24, 2003 at appx. 19:00, the Gastonia, NC. Fire Department’s Heavy Rescue Company was enroute to an evening drill when they stopped by a local Chinese Restaurant for some grub. On the way in, they noticed a man and a woman talking beside a car, but didn’t think anything about it. They parked no more than 20′ or so from the vehicle.
When they had finished eating, they were returning to the Squad when they noticed several people standing around the vehicle, and the Captain asked them if they needed some help. One of them told the Captain that there had been a domestic fracas, that a man (the guy and woman they saw when they were going in) had hit his wife, and asked him to call the Police. The Captain called PD, and his personnel (3 FF’s) moved to keep the man and the woman separated while awaiting arrival of the PD. Things appeared to be calm at that time, and EMS was also requested for the woman for the injuries that she had sustained from when her husband had punched her during the dispute.
While this was going on, the man appeared to be getting more and more agitated, and asked repeatedly if he could go to his car. The F/F’s, fearing what he might do (they were thinking he might leave the scene), told him no. At that point, the man started to walk away from his car, but then just turned and ran for the car. A F/F was close by, and he said the guy “just got an expression on his face that looked like he had been possessed by the devil – I’ve never seen anything like it”. The guy grabbed the car door and tried to get inside. 2 F/F’s tried to wrestle him out of the vehicle, and the Captain closed the door on the guy in an attempt to get him to exit the car. The guy managed to get one arm free, reached under the seat, and pulled our a holstered .380 automatic. He shook off the holster, upon which the Captain yelled “gun”, and everyone turned the guy loose and ran for their lives. The guy got into the car, locked the doors, and sat there holding the automatic.
As the Captain got about 10′ away, he turned and saw the guy put the automatic in his mouth and pull the trigger; the weapon did not go off. The Captain was hollering at the guy, “no, no, don’t do it”. The guy appeared to be surprised that the weapon didn’t go off, and pulled the slide back to chamber another round. He again placed the weapon in his mouth and pulled the trigger, and this time the weapon discharged. The Captain had the FF grab the EMS bag, while he pulled an axe from the Squad and broke the driver’s side window of the car. The guy was obviously dead. The F/F’s covered the car with a tarp and waited for the arrival of the PD, to whom they turned over the scene.
Billy, this story just happened not 2 days ago, and is 100% true. My knees were shaking when I found out what had happened, and how close we came to losing several guys – all from trying to do the right thing and save somebody – even if it was from himself. I think this incident just reinforces how totally unpredictable our profession is, and how – usually when we least expect it – we can be placed into a ‘life and death’ situation almost instantly. This one thing these guys all said was how quickly this thing went bad – all of them said the whole episode took less than 30 seconds from the time when the guy ran for his car. This is not a lot of time to make a decision – good, bad, or indifferent. I suppose somebody could figure out a way to ‘Monday Morning Quarterback” this incident but then, they weren’t there. Given the circumstances, I think they acted in the best possible manner here, and we got off lucky – this time.
Thought you would want to hear this one – I’m still scared for them.