“… she reached out and pulled out a pistol…”
As most of our responses now are EMS related, I thought I would share an experience with you that confronted my 3 man engine company when we were dispatched to an “unknown medical”.
It truly reinforced the fact that there is no such thing as a routine call. It also emphasized that we must always be aware of changing conditions and be ready to react accordingly.
When we arrived at the address, we found that the residence sat down a long driveway with limited access. I purposely left my Engineer to assist with guiding the EMS unit to our location.
We were met at the door by a visibly upset elderly female. Looking back, I can remember the hairs on my neck coming to attention for some reason. She began to inform us that her daughter needed “some psychiatric help bad!”.We entered the door with her, which opened into the kitchen area. I glanced around for the daughter and seeing no one, I began to question the mother as to the problem. She began a long disertation concerning her daughter’s mental status and how her daughter had become very disruptive to the home setting. It was obvious by the mother’s age, that the daughter must be of middle age herself. About that time, the daughter appeared in the living room of the house, adjacent to the kitchen area. We asked her and her mother to relax on the couch and began assessing the situation. The daughter was very pleasant to us, while appearing to suffer some sort of mental handicap. It began to be a “she said and she said” type argument. My “backman” and I calmly began trying to diffuse the escalating situation. The firefighter was sitting on a chair directly in front of the daughter, listening intently to her tirades while I attempted to soothe the mother’s anxieties. Suddenly the rest of the hair on my neck stood up as I overheard the daughter remark about “how tired of the whole thing I am” I glanced over to her as she reached inside the gown she was wearing and produced a pistol, which she promptly waved around to all three of us and proclaimed just how she could just kill herself and end her misery, along with her mother. The firefighter was approximately three feet directly in front of the weapon now, while the mother had erupted into her own hysterical tirade. I initially made the decision to “jump” the daughter, blocking with my body any ensuing gunshots that might erupt, while protecting Twiss who was in point blank range and the elderly mother. I immediately dismissed the idea as foolish and also noted that she didn’t even in fact have a trigger finger on it itself, but rather just around the handle of what appeared to be a .32 caliber revolver. I launched into an intense pyschological reasoning while slowly reaching for the emergency button on my radio. I pushed it while attempting to calm and soothe the daughter’s frustrations. I frequently assured her that we were the fire dept and that we were hear to help her and we meant her no harm. I could hear dispatch attempting to call me verifying the emergency button activation but continued with my verbal diffusing attempts. Sweat rolled down my body as I glanced to the gun and to the FF, who remained remarkably calm. I made a motion that help was on the way, when he began to talk with the distraught woman. While she was distracted, I slowly turned my head away, eased the remote mike to my lips and whispered to dispatch that we “have a gun being held on us”. In my current situation, decorum was not a necessity but police assistance just might be!
I asked the woman if she would like a nice, cold drink to calm her which she readily agreed to. I told her I needed her mother to show me where the glasses were so I would be taking her with me to the kitchen. As soon as the mother was safely out of sight, I ushered her outside and told her to wait as far away from the house as possible. She began crying and expressing deep concern for us and I assured her that we would be fine. I still entertained thoughts of securing the weapon by force, if necessary, but the easy demeanor in which she and the FF were conversing was doing much more to help the predicament than any theatrics ever could. I noticed how he had remained completely calm with no signs of nervousness at all. I politely handed the woman her drink, hoping she would lay the gun down where I could grab it, but she merely shifted it to another hand before graciously accepting the offering. I noticed that she now had her finger firmly around the trigger. I could hear sirens in the distance and I slowly turned away while they conversed and had dispatch to have the PD units kill the noise for fear of upsetting and reescalating the situation. I admired my FF’s calm demeanor as he continued to gain the woman’s trust and confidence, all the while showing absolutely no signs of fear of the possiblity that death lay within three feet directly in front of him. When I heard PD units arrive on the scene, I distracted the woman by telling her that I was going to check on her mother and would she and the FF like to play a card game, from the deck of cards that I had noticed in the kitchen?. She agreed and I silently communicated that I was going out to intercept the PD from coming in, guns blazing and upset the teneous but improving situation. I met a police officer who was alone, at the kitchen door and informed her of what was happening. Her eyes went wide and she turned and ran out the door to the yard area. I quickly returned to the living room where I noticed that the FF was making great progress in gaining the woman’s confidence. She seemed to be smiling more at him now as his voice became more and more soothing to her. Suddenly, I saw her pick up the weapon. I immediately cringed as she pointed it towards the FF. For the first time, I noticed real fear on his face. Just as I was tensing my muscles for an approximately 5 foot all out leap to block the FF from danger, I heard the woman say loudly, “here ya go” and she handed the weapon to him and smiled, saying “I’m ok now!” I felt as if air had been released from a balloon as my heart beat began to slowly return to normal.I told the FF to stay with her as I went to the doorway to inform, by now, additional PD units and my newly arrived district chief that things had been diffused and that the woman (and us)was fine. I informed them as to her mental handicaps asking them to be very gentle with her. They were suprisingly so! She was not arrested as we decided not to press charges but instead to get her the proper mental help that she needed.
After the incident, we critiqued the incident and agreed that things went smoothly because of my sixth sense, of sorts, that something was not right as we arrived at the scene. We approached the afflicted female with compassion, all the while continually assessing a deteriorating situation that could have easily resulted in tragedy. I felt that our training and experience gave us that necessary edge to properly assess this situation, diffuse it with our compassions, and rectify it to the overall good. As of last, I hear that the woman was transferred to a state mental hospital, receiving the care that she needs.
What about the initial arriving female police officer that I spoke to? After she ran out the doorway, to this day, I have never seen that officer again! Nope, not even outside after the incident! Vanished into thin air!
I nominated my FF for a commendation for his cool, professionalism “under fire”, or nearly anyway, and the manner in which he possibly had saved the lives of four individuals, ourselves included-but for whatever reason, the award never occured. That FF retired on stress shortly after this call, having NEVER received any official accolades, other than from myself on the company level, as to his heroics that day.
In addition to this call, Chiefs and Officers… please remember to recognize the FF’s when they do go above and beyond… a little bit goes a long way.