By Samantha Smith – Armor Up WV
Every dispatcher has a call or a phrase over the radio they never want to hear. I was no exception. On my shift, we seemed to get very bad calls more frequently than others. We’ve heard things no one should have to. We had an officer get shot after a pursuit, a fireman lose his life and children not make it out of a structure fire. While handling these emergencies, the toll it takes on your emotions is a hard on you. Little did I know, these were the easier of the “bad” calls.
On October 13th, I was at home cleaning. I had taken two vacation days to get caught up on house work and get the house ready for the holidays. When both you and your husband work in emergency services, shifts are long and crazy. My house work was easy to fall behind on with 12 to 16 hour shifts. As I was cleaning, my cell phone rang. Steve, my husband, was on duty (a police officer) and he would call if he wasn’t busy to chat. “Hey babe!” Uh, Sam. Oh hi Dave, where’s Steve. Sam, sit down. I’m terrified. I can tell something is wrong, my mind is racing thinking the unimaginable and I’m shaking. Dave, where is Steve let me talk to him. Sam listen, he’s ok but he’s hurt.
My thoughts are everywhere, I’m getting pissed and scared. I needed to know he was ok. Dave “what the f*$@ is going on. This isn’t funny. Let me talk to Steve before I kick your ass! Sam I’m right beside him he’s hurt but ok. No blood. He was hit by a car and thrown. The noise I hear between the chaos on the phone… it’s my husband gasping and groaning. I said ok, where are you I’m coming there. Sam just meet us at the hospital, no I’m not waiting to see him, give me the f-ing location now Dave. I literally changed clothes and drove as fast as my Mustang would go. I made it to him from the phone call and changing clothes in 8 mins. I have never been so scared in my life on a phone call. Little did I know, this was just a warm up to what was coming.
Exactly two months to the day, a cold December evening my world was turned upside down. I was at home packing my lunch and talking to my husband Steve. My shift at the 911 center started at 1900 hours til 0700. He was going to leave when I did. He was going into the Police Department to work on paperwork since he was just starting back after 6 weeks off. I really wanted him to stay at home. I begged and cried trying to get him to stay home. He assured me he would only be gone a few hours to get caught up.
My shift started out like any other at the 911 center. I arrived 15 mins early to get the run down on the events from day shift and any other details I needed to know. Day shift was leaving as I was settling in to work the state police and sheriff department radios. My coworkers, Joelene and Ellen, would be working in the pod with me. I had a deputy clear a call. I heard another coworker taking an in-progress burglary. It was going to my husband’s town. I quickly looked up the address on our map system to see the exact location. My heart was racing. I heard Ellen, give out the call. The officer marked himself and my husband on scene. They called for restricted traffic. I said Ellen, tell them it’s the only trailer that isn’t parallel with the street. 10-4 metro thanks, we weren’t sure it was the right location. My stomach was in knots. I was still working my radio, while listening to my coworker dispatch at her console.
METRO – “OFFICER DOWN” – GSW TO THE CHEST SEND ME THE WORLD. I hit the floor on my knees. JoJo (Joelene) that’s Steve. Steve was shot. He’s with that officer! He didn’t wear his body armor. I was dying inside. All this happened in seconds. I wasn’t 15 mins into my shift, and all hell broke loose. After letting her know it was my husband, I quickly got on the radio with alert tones. Metro to all units… we have an officer down in Glasgow, “GSW” to the chest, suspect is still returning fire. Units from all over started “marking” up. They needed directions. I was shaking. The tears made it hard to see. My voice was trembling, but I was able to answer my guys on the radio. Several of the responding units knew it was Steve. They knew us. They could hear it in my voice and they knew. Kathy came over and slide me up off of the floor and took over my radio. I was helped to my feet by my Captain. He took me to the break room. He prayed, I wanted too also but I was in shock. I had to know Steve was ok. They tried keeping in the break room. I fought my way back out to dispatch.
The backup officers on my radio needed directions. I was able to give the color of the building and landmarks to my partner Kathy. Help was almost there. No one knew if Steve was alive. I knew I couldn’t drive myself to the hospital. I could barely breathe. I knew I should have stayed positive, but I was praying God spared him. I wasn’t ready to be a widow at 28 years old. “Shop with a Cop” was going on not far from the 911 center, they called one of the officers to come get me and take me to the hospital. Time felt like it stood still. I couldn’t get anything out of my coworkers on Steve’s condition, because frankly they didn’t know. I made it to the hospital to wait.
The drive there felt like it took hours. I have never seen so many officers in one location. The hall was lined. So many checked on me. It was slow motion. I knew I needed to call his parents. My job skills kicked in. How do you tell your in-laws their son was shot? I didn’t know if he was alive myself? After several attempts I managed to dial their number. A few deep breaths and they answered. I told them Steve was shot, I was waiting at the hospital. They had so many questions, I had no answers for them. I remember telling them, they could wait until morning since it was dark, I was sure he would be fine. I hung up the phone and lost it. I just lied to keep them from getting terrified. I saw multiple deputies in under cover clothes, city officers and troopers. As I stood waiting at the ambulance bay, the respiratory therapist looked at me. We locked eyes. No, no, no, no… said Crystal (the respiratory therapist) I grabbed her hugged her and said yes, it’s Steve. Call for whomever else is working to take your call this time. She made a call to get another RT. Steve did his “clinicals” with her and we were all friends. Screaming, I see the bay doors open and the Fire Chief sitting on top of my husband. There was so much blood. Steve was screaming and moaning. Why is the Chief on top of him? Thank you Jesus he is alive. No idea on the severity, but he’s alive for now. I had to wait until the ER staff evaluated him. The wait felt like forever. I talked to people as they checked on me, it was all a blur. Everything was happening so fast but felt like a slow motion film.
Is he going to make it? Please God let him live. I was finally able to see him! He was conscious but injured. His chest looked awful. There were cuts and hole with clear light pink fluid coming out. His blood was light pink! His arm was bandaged and took most of the shot. He was facing a surgery very soon. They were prepping the operating room as I got to see him for just a few minutes. I kissed him good bye telling him I loved him and I’d be waiting on him after surgery. I had never been so scared in my life. Would he survive surgery? I cried until I had no more tears. I was terrified. I had no idea what to expect.
This night was December 13th 2011. I will never forget it. It changed my life and my husband’s forever. We have a new “normal” and we are still learning and adapting to it. This was my ultimate living nightmare. Everything else simply prepared me for it. I pray that no dispatcher will live their own worst fear on the other end of the radio.
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