I learned very early in my EMS career that there were certain times of the day where we were almost guaranteed to get a call. There is something about transitions in people’s lives that make them more vulnerable to emergencies. Of course the “Rush Hours” and times of inclement weather are very prone to car crashes; but I soon realized that bedtime, wake-up time, and mealtimes also were times of high call volume. Then, obviously, there is two to three AM, “when the bars close.” I learned most of this in a compressed time frame, while working the busiest ambulance in Oregon, in downtown Portland during the early 80s.
My twenty year EMS career allowed me to meet a lot of interesting and colorful people. There are about 10-12 that stand out clearly, almost as charactures, in my memories. Then there are the elderly, who believed they were dying, and would share their perspective on the meaning of life with me – while riding in the back of my ambulance. I treasure those intimate conversations.
My eyes were drawn to the long-barrel .45 caliber revolver
One evening, while working as a paramedic/firefighter in Aloha, the bells rang. I hadn’t gone to bed yet, because it was still in that window of opportunity. The dispatcher sounded a little urgent, but we never knew. 911 callers didn’t always communicate well under the stress of the incident and the relatively new 911 dispatch system still had some training kinks to work out. But, for all intents and purposes, it just sounded like another car into the ditch.
When the first responders arrived in the fire engine, having responded from a station closer to the incident, they reported a car into a tree and on fire. Now this got our attention. Contrary to popular belief, cars rarely catch on fire after a wreck. I’ve probably responded to over 5000 MVCs (motor vehicle collisions) and I’ve only seen two that were on fire. That’s a pretty slim percentage!
I assured the man that we were there to help and he backed away
We arrived in Rescue 252 about two minutes after Engine 257 arrived from the top of Cooper Mountain. The crew was just beginning to extinguish the fire and the lieutenant directed us to our patient, across the street and lying on the ground.
As I approached I saw a man taking off his leather jacket and placing it over an unconscious woman lying on the ground. My eyes were drawn to the long-barrel .45 caliber revolver in a holster between the man’s shoulder blades. This isn’t something even an experienced emergency responder sees everyday. Then I noticed how big this man was. Probably six foot four and built like a professional football player.
Stepping closer to assess the unconscious woman, obviously our greatest medical concern, I was suddenly stopped in my tracks. The man hunched over her rose up like a bear in the wild, raised his arms into a defensive posture, and growled at me. That’s right! He growled. I knew immediately from the look in his eyes that I was in danger. I backed off and talked to him like I would any wild animal I had startled.
I assured the man that we were there to help and he backed away. As we assessed and treated the unconscious woman, immobilizing her on a backboard and preparing her for transport to a trauma center, I noticed that a dozen county sheriff deputies had arrived on the scene. This was unusual, but I was thinking that this burning red Corvette, wrapped around the oak tree was just spectacular enough to draw a crowd of bored cops.
It was then that I noticed that not one of those cops had approached the man with the large caliber pistol holstered on his back. They hadn’t questioned him, asked to see his ID (or concealed weapon permit?), nor had they taken the gun away from him. In fact, the cops were keeping a more than comfortable distance from this guy. This was weird. Why were they staying out of this guy’s way?
As we loaded the woman into the ambulance, the large bearded man with the huge handgun on his back, started to climb in with her. We don’t allow friends or family to ride in the back of the ambulance, especially for trauma system patients. But when I tried to stop him, he growled at me again. In fact, these were the only audible sounds we’d heard the man make – growls…angry growls…angry, menacing growls.
I looked for help from my cop friends but they were nowhere to be found. They were all browsing the perimeter of the scene as if they were on a Summer stroll with their own wandering thoughts. None of them showed any concern towards the most dangerous man I’d ever met in my life. It reminded me of the little boy whistling in the creepy cemetery. Just trying to ignore any real or perceived danger.
The ambulance paramedic looked at me with pleading eyes as we closed the doors. I’ll never forget that look of fear. That brief moment of eye contact communicated a world of information. “What are you doing to me? I’ll never get out of this alive. Help me!?”
After the ambulance left, the Sargent in charge filled me in on the back story. The man with the gun was a bounty hunter. He was chasing someone up Cooper Mountain and exchanging gunfire. His girlfriend was riding in the hot, red Corvette with him and as they rounded the corner at SW Rigert & 175th, he lost control and struck a large oak tree. As the car burst into flames, he pulled his now unconscious girlfriend from the front seat and carried her over to the other side of the road, where we found her.
It was on this night that I learned about “the thin blue line.”
In back of the burned ‘vette, we found sleeping bags and limited camping gear. Everything you’d expect a guy living out of his car would carry.
We called ahead to St. Vincent’s so they could have extra gray-haired, retired guys wearing security uniforms on hand. When I arrived, it looked like the entire St. Vincent security team was in the emergency department.
It was on this night in the mid-80s that I learned about “the thin blue line.” Sometimes, in order to catch the bad-guys, the cops have to go a little towards the dark side. But, sometimes they have to rely on the bounty hunters to do their dirty work for them. Not only was Mr. Bounty Hunter mean, angry, and out of control, but he had the support of the cops.
Who knew there was this no man’s land out there?
Who knew there was this no man’s land out there? Who knew someone could be evil, and still operate in cooperation with the men and women sworn to protect us? Who knew someone could drive through our streets, shooting at bad guys, and get away with it? Who knew I could be so scared by one man? Who knew that even 12 deputies would be unwilling to tangle with just one man?
I wonder what else exists out there that I’m unaware of?
Oh, and by the way, the guy I met that dark night on the side of Cooper Mountain – well, he made Dog look like the the kindly old woman that lives down the street from you.