July 16, 2015

WARNING: This is going to be a long post. So grab a drink or some ice cream. I haven’t talked much about it since it happened. And I’ve only sat down once before now and written anything down. I don’t know why I haven’t been able to. My role was totally insignificant compared to those who sacrificed their lives and those men who charged in and kill that piece of shit.  

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It’s been 2 years since the terrorist attack in Chattanooga. Althought I wasn’t in the gunfight or have direct contact with the victims, that day messed me up. I’ve been different ever since.

 A huge part of me believes that I’m ridiculous for being so torn by it when I wasn’t directly involved with those who died. I didn’t fire a weapon or get shot at. But when you work in emergency services you never really know which call will effect you. So I guess this one got me and now I am trying to give myself a break and share my little piece of that day. 

Some would say that September 11th changed their view of the world. Back then I was 26 years old, single, with no kids. I had only about 4 years under my belt as a firefighter. I was still 10ft tall, bullet-proof, and naive. And although it did have an effect on me, I wasn’t physically there. It had no direct impact on my life.  14 years later I found myself standing in the middle of a highway trying to provide some organized help to chaos and keep account of men and women that weren’t normally under my command. 

Let me sidetrack here a minute and explain some relevant information about myself. If you know me well you can scroll past  this. Haha! For those that don’t know me, I have been certified as a “police officer” since 2003.  But you won’t see me walking around writing tickets or arresting people. Most people don’t even know. 

I attended the local police academy. At that time I was a Lieutenant for the fire department. POST (Police Officer Standard Training) is a requirement in order to be a Fire Investigator on our department. I had applied for and gotten that position. 

Although 5 years as a fire investigator gave me a huge amount of experience in law enforcement, I have NEVER been a patrol officer. And that is where you really become a cop. I have maintained my POST in order to have an extra layer of protection for myself, my family, and my coworkers.

Not too long ago I was talking with a group of cop friends during the yearly police in-service. We were discussing the 16th and how there wasn’t any mention of me in the federal reports….or any reports that we knew of. Although I am grateful I wasn’t mentioned, I know I was there. So do about 100+ law enforcement officers I came in direct contact with that day.

During our lunch break from class, I found myself having an overwhelming need to write stuff down about that day. I hadn’t at all up until that point. I had even been asked by our state fire academy and the local Homeland Security office to write a synopsis of what all we did that day. I didn’t write down a single word. I just simply couldn’t. But that day, after talking with friends, I found myself writing…..

Not writing what we did, but writing about how ANGRY I was. I was pissed off over just about anything and everything. I had gone from a “realist” to a “pessimist”. And despite all I had seen and done in my career, I had remained a realist until that day. Afterwards I was nothing but short tempered, paranoid, and negative.

After a long time and some counseling through our Employee Assistance Program, here is what I determined to be a huge factor in why this anger I had was so overwhelming….

With all my experience of law enforcement meshed with fire service, I began to ask for some sort of cross-training between our fire and police departments YEARS before this event. Even if it was just simple “awareness” training for our firefighters on what to watch for on medical calls. Something. Anything. Because I had this overwhelming feeling that something shitty would happen.

You want to know what I got from our training chief at that time? “This is Chattanooga. Nothing is going it happen here.” I also got told by another chief “We can’t be letting them use our trucks in those situations (situations like Columbine High School). What if they get bullet holes in them? We would have to pay to get them fixed.” We spend our careers training for shit we hope never happens. How is was this any different??

Well, at that point I said “Forget you”.  Not literally. Just in my head. Because at that time I still had a filter.  I contacted the person who was over the SWAT team at the time. I let them come to one of my firehalls and look at all the rescue equipment we had. I let them ride up in the platform (bucket on the end of an aerial firetruck). I let them see how we crank the trucks…just in case they needed to use one. Just opening up a line of communication with the guys who would be there for my people. 

I’m not stupid. And they aren’t either. We all know that using our equipment to do something miniscule is out of the question. But I told them if they’ve got a downed officer in the middle of a shit storm or victims bailing out second-story windows and I’m there, take one of my trucks. Or hell I’d drive it for them.

Of course adminstrations changed and little was done with my proposal. Following adminstrations did not give  a shit either. Again…. “That sort of thing won’t happen here”.  Well here we are several years later with a local kid going radical and killing 5 of our military personnel. Terrorism right in the middle of our fucking yard.

NOW they want to get together and have some training with each other. And apparently have a committee working on it. So I guess that is a positive. But it should have been started ages ago. 

    The entire time I stood in that road I was protected. Protected by men and women that lay their lives down every time they go to work. Multiple local and regional departments, state troopers, ATF, FBI, DEA, Sheriff’s Department….all surrounding me. Patient, calm, and very respectfully. 

    As a Battalion Chief I live, eat, breathe Incident Command. Form a plan. Provide resources. Keep accountability. And that is all I did on July 16th.
    I remember thinking that at some point one or more of those cops would ask what in the hell a fire chief was doing telling them where to go….why in the hell they had to give me their name…why in the hell they had to report back to me when they left the hot zone… 

    But never once did that happen. They were nothing but respectful.

    I knew over half the faces. Some where people I consider friends. Some I have a huge amount of respect for. ALL of them I was proud of. What hit me most about that day was not the killings. It was watching those men and women run forward to save others. 

    All I can really think of to describe what I witnessed is “Awe”. I love my local law enforcement. I wish everyone would take time to really, truly get to know them. Cops are humans like the rest of us.

     That day I witnessed them go above and beyond to save countless lives. Far and above anything I had witnessed before. And it makes me angry that there are people out there that refuse to treat them with the respect that they deserve. 

    We live in an incredible country. We have freedoms and opportunities that majority of the world never know. We have people all around us that sign up to be there on our worst day.

    Yet we take complete and total advantage…and then ask for more. And we want to buck and defy a system in place that is trained to respond to situations like this. A terrorist attack. By a local. In our city. 

    I was not looking forward to being on duty today because it is the second anniversary. I said “it is a shitty day to be on duty”. But a friend of mine said 

    “It’s not a shitty day. It’s a day to remember what they sacrificed. To bring to light the things that need to change.”

    Words that struck me to the core. “To bring to light the things that need to change”. We all need to remember what these men and their families and friends sacrificed. And what those who are still living sacrifice every day. 

    Remember, respect, and make changes. 

    2 thoughts on “July 16, 2015

    1. Great article..I have been there too trying to make change and getting turned down or no response..you are making a difference. Not everyone knows my first love was police department but it wasn’t on my cards so I went fire …yrs ago I tried like two maybe three times to get into Arson back then it was a joke for a female to get there but you did..that is great. On the other hand trying to make change in the department can be hard, it’s a slow go. It has not been that long that lockdown-active shooter procedures have been implemented. I tried to get help from my department yrs ago and was told that is a police matter..I was trying to get it in place in my daycares and different places. I took things in my own hands and went to the Police Dept.in person the first time..I told my supervisor at the time ( yrs ago) we are going to be involved at some point in these types of incidents. Then in IFC 2012 lockdown was there. I knew when I had a daycare employee say what she would donate pull the pull station to activate the fire alarm, something had to be done. That was only going to add more people into harms way if the proper agencies aren’t contacted first. Thank you Leslie for just telling the truth and what you have been thru, your life experiences!! You have made a huge impact for the fire service and us chicks out here..if you know me I am not a I am a woman hear me roar..but it’s good to the the growth in the opportunity for us. I Love sister in the sisterhood!!!

      • Thank you so much! I am fortunate to be a part of such an incredible profession. We all hit bumps and sometimes roadblocks….but we just go around. You are making a difference as well, sister! Be safe!

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