Photo credit: AP Photo/Democrat & Chronicle, Jamie Germano
I was in the kitchen watching updates from the scene where four firefighters were shot in Webster in Monroe County, NY. During the mid '90s, my father and I served with the Rush Fire Department, in the southern end of Monroe County.
As this incident unfolded on Monday, it was a haunting reminder of the incidents over the last few years where firefighters, always known as the good guys and gals during emergencies, have been threatened or shot at.
I remembered a story from my childhood where my dad was held by a gun toting man inside a house when he responded to a reported sick person.
"Hey, what was that incident you responded to next to the school with the gun," I asked.
"He just wanted to end his life," my father recalled on Christmas Eve.
I was in first or second grade at the Glenwood Landing Elementary School in Glenwood, NY. Next to the school was the school district's transportation building where my father worked.
My father was an ex-chief of the Glenwood Fire Company when he walked from his full-time job as the transportation supervisor to a home next to his building. The Signal 9 call (EMS related incident) was "for a guy with internal bleeding."
He knocked on the door and identified himself as as a Glenwood member. The man let him into the house. The man suffered a myriad of medical conditions and who later was believed to have suffered some mental illness.
"He closed the door and then I started talking with him when I saw that he had a gun. He said that he just wanted to end his life."
My father recalled it calmly. It was no big deal as far as he was concerned.
The man blocked the door, my father's only way out.
"He never pointed the gun at me, but he brought it up about here," dad said as he showed me the image of a gun about waist level, aiming at his lower extremities. "He never aimed it above my chest."
I just kept my cool and that's all I could do. If I kept calm, I was hoping he woul keep cool too."
"I let the ambulance crew know we had a problem and they called for the police.
My father said the man didn't want to go to the hospital and he didn't want the emergency responders outside his house. He explained the whole process. Someone calls for help and the volunteers, many who lived in the neighborhood, dropped what they were doing to come and help.
Still, the man refused to get treatment or go to the hospital. He reminded him that everyone there was there to help. He repeatedly reminded the man that "You know me. I work next door, and see you and your parents everyday."
After about 20 minutes, my dad devised a plan to get out.
He again asked the man if he wanted to go to the hospital to get treated for the bleeding. The man declined any help, saying he wanted to die.
"I told him I could make everyone go away, but not until we had his signature on a release form. So I asked him to let me out to get the paperwork so that he could sign off (on the medical release)."
The man hesitated for a few minutes and sought some reassurance that, with the signature, everyone would leave. My father confirmed the process and the man agreed.
"He opened the door and as I stepped outside, the police officers zipped right in and took him into custody.
My father was very lucky that day. As a family we were lucky that day.
In Webster, two firefighters and an off-duty police officer were very lucky too when they escaped.
If I could have switched out my Christmas wish, I would have asked that all West Webster and mutual aid firefighters returned home that morning with that smile that you know every firefighter finds hard to contain after nice job.
It's like the smile that my nieces and nephews had as they waited to open gifts on Christmas Day.