My First Fatal

When I was still in my probationary period at work, I did an attachment with the Traffic Unit.

I dealt with drink drivers, people on their mobile phones, crashes, but never a fatal.  In fact, the biggest trauma I had to deal with on that attachment was less than a broken bone.  I was lucky.  These guys & girls deal with trauma on a nearly daily basis.

But it did mean that when I was by myself, my first fatal would be just that, my first.  Nobody to hold my hand so to speak, and guide me through.  Very much in at the deep end.

It was a Sunday.  I really do remember it like it was yesterday.  The fact that so many months on, there are still flowers at the scene I think speaks volumes.  It was his birthday recently.  I didn’t know that, not until I saw the “32” balloons hung at the scene.

On this Sunday, my best friend was working.  She is a Special Constable and we have never been crewed together.  We’ve worked the same shift over the years, but never been crewmates.  She text me and told me that she was coming in on the Sunday and I couldn’t wait! Loads to catch up on to make a late shift fly by.

I joked with her when she came in.  It was a Sunday, the chances are bugger all would happen and it would be a slow shift!  Well how wrong was I?!

Off we went on a tootle around the town, chatting rubbish and catching up.  I heard my colleague on the radio call up to say that Traffic were on their way to an accident, but were some distance away.   When I heard the road name I called up and said we would go, as we were literally turning into the road.

So what did we know when we were on our way?  We knew there was an accident.  That was it.  Not how many vehicles, what level of injury, na-da.

When we arrived, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure where the scene was.  There were people and vehicles bloody everywhere.  There was a bus with its hazard lights on, so we presumed it was involved, and parked up behind it.  I jumped out and got my high-vis, when somebody ran towards me and said a child had been knocked off their bike.

To this day I don’t know what they were chatting about, because there was no child or bike involved.  There was however, a man, lying face down in the middle of the road.  There was also a car, with the biggest bloody dent in the bonnet and virtually no windscreen.  The driver was stood there.

I called up and asked for Ambulance.  They were already on route, 30 minutes away. Brilliant.

I called up for an ETA for traffic. They were already on route, 20 minutes away. Brilliant.

It’s a bit of a blur, but it was at about this point where I looked at my crewmate, my best friend, and without saying much we realised that the casualty needed some serious help, now. He was barely breathing.

I felt so out of my depth. How quite I was “in charge” of this incident was beyond me. Ambulance had rung my mobile and were requesting updates as to the man’s condition and what we were doing.  Air Ambulance were also on their way.

Our colleagues had turned up and started putting cordons in place. Bollocks to any spinal injury, we rolled the man over, ripped what was left of his top open, and started CPR.

My bestie was ace.  She’d never done CPR before but you wouldn’t know. She took it all in her stride and just kept going. It’s bloody knackering but she just carried on.  She alternated with my colleagues, I was still on the phone to Ambulance and trying to find a de-fib. Nobody knew where the nearest was. Traffic still weren’t here.  Nor were Ambulance.

I knew this man was going to die.  In fact, I knew he was already dead, but we can’t pronounce death, so we carried on working on him.

Never in my life had I been so happy to see a traffic officer.  He flew up to us, literally launched me the de-fib, and ran back to his car to get the rest of his first aid kit.  They carry more than the Response cars, and quite frankly a bandage wasn’t going to cut it today.

By the time he came back, damn near the entire Traffic Team had descended, plus a couple of Ambulances, and I could see the Air Ambulance. Funny how everyone arrives at once!  We had the de-fib up and running.

Ambulance took over at this point, thankfully.  I began grabbing witness details. Names, addresses, what they saw, the usual.

A while later, talking to one of the witnesses, it hit me. All the machines that had been frantically beeping away, weren’t.  All of the Paramedics and Doctors that were passing orders and talking to each other, weren’t.  Despite the sheer number of people around, to me it was silent.  That’s when I realised, he really was dead.  How I didn’t just fall apart I couldn’t tell you.  I carried on speaking to those that needed speaking to, just “doing my job”.

Eventually, we got relieved by other officers.  They took over the scene whilst the Investigators did their thing, so that we could go back to the station.

We didn’t say much at all on the way back. I think I was concentrating on breathing & driving rather than crying to be honest.

I don’t really know what happened after that.  I know we had a shit-tonne of paperwork to do, a debrief was had with our supervisors, and some food was eaten. I don’t remember much more than that.

That was pretty much our shift done. We spent hours down at the scene. Time flew.  Just before I left, a colleague gave me a cuddle (dangerous!) and asked if I was okay. “Yeah I’m fine” I said. Not entirely true, but I didn’t know how I felt, not yet anyway.

I took my kit off, jumped in my car, and cried most of the way home.  It’s funny isn’t it, how there is such a divide, somehow, between work and home. As soon as I took my kit off, I was in home mode, and my emotions got the better of me. But I needed to cry.  We aren’t superhuman, we are just people. I think I was in shock.

I can never thank my crewmate, my best friend, enough for that day. I literally couldn’t have done it alone. Those that are with you through the best and worst times really are invaluable.  You can’t always be strong, but you can always be brave.

You can only do your best, but what if your best isn’t enough?

When we deal with Mental Health, are we affecting our own?

There is a totally shit perception that anyone in the Police, and I expect other emergency services, are robots in a uniform.

Job Description – 1 x person, preferable if happy to be assaulted and sworn at, no feelings, can function on lack of sleep.    Not quite.

In one week at work, the average Police Officer will see more than the average member of the public will in a lifetime.

I’ve lost track of the number of dead bodies I’ve seen already and I’ve only been in three years. Be it suicides, fatal car crashes, somebody’s Nan who’s passed away in a home, a heart attack in the high street, they all have an affect on me, some more than others.

What about a concern for welfare? We search homes, woodland, car parks, cars, you name it. Are we going to find a dead body? Someone who has taken an overdose? Are we going to find nothing? The adrenaline pumps every time you open a door when searching a house, because what if somebody is slumped behind it? Or hanging from the loft hatch? (Or a coat stand falls over when you open the door and you think it’s a body and crap yourself!)

What about the calls to a person on the train tracks, on a bridge over the motorway, the person who’s drunk and driven off feeling suicidal?

But it’s not all trauma. What about the domestics?  Something we deal with multiple times a day – verbal & violent.  Seeing both men and women injured at the hands of the person who is supposed to love them most.  Comforting the children who are scared because they have witnessed it.

Our mental health is tested all the time, but there is an assumption that we are okay, because it is part of the job.  Each one of the above, isolated, doesn’t seem like much to some. But put them all together.  Imagine starting your shift at a suicide, then going to a violent domestic, and ending it with somebody stood on a railway bridge.

Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t happen like this every day, and I have no interest in painting a picture that it’s worse than it is. But somedays, they’re just shit. Other times, it’s more a cumulative effect.  Let me explain….

For a number of months, every week, at least once a week, my shift got deployed to the same man.  This man had a noose, around his neck, and he was stood on the wrong side of the railings over a road bridge.  On some occasions, he wasn’t over the bridge, he was in his loft instead.

On one extremely bad day, I was deployed to his address with my colleague. He was in his loft with a noose around his neck, and was threatening to jump. Ambulance weren’t there yet. Nor was our back up.  At least if he was on the bloody bridge we were on the same level.  Here, his feet are above my head, how on earth is this ever going to end well. He wouldn’t let us into the loft, he kept leaning forward, tightening the noose.

I was talking to him, looking up through the hatch. Nothing.  My colleague tried, nothing. Our back up arrived, as did Ambulance. Then, mid conversation with him, he jumped. I’m still not sure whether my heart sunk or jumped into my mouth. Thankfully we managed to somehow push him up by his feet, as my colleague got up into the loft and cut him down.

Every time I got sent to him after that, I dreaded it more. What if I get sent alone? He’s massive, there’s no way I could get him down alone.  What if he’s over the bridge? Do I cut him down and risk him killing himself on impact, or let him hang until back up arrived? Do we drive the police car under the bridge so he has less distance to fall if he did jump? What about the van? Could we reach him from the roof of the van maybe? How would I get onto the roof of the bloody van to start with? Maybe we refuse to deploy unless there’s at least three of us?  But what if there aren’t, what if we don’t go, and he dies?

The cumulative effect of this on our own mental health, as Police Officers, was massive.  We knew the address off by heart, we didn’t need any more details. It became a horrible habit. We were knackered. We couldn’t keep doing this.  We were going to break.

Yes we are Police Officers, but no we aren’t superhuman. Under our uniform, we are just a person, just like all of you. With feelings, emotions, and exhaustion. We get affected by jobs we deal with, of course we do.  Yes, we get used to it, yes it gets easier, and yes we prioritise. But no, we can’t just keep going. Sometimes we cry. Sometimes we shout. Sometimes we sleep. But tomorrow, we’re back doing it again, and tomorrow is a new day, with new challenges.

My Tutor was better than yours!

When you first start on shift, you get tutored.  For ten weeks, every single shift, you are crewed with you tutor.

Maths has never been my strong point, but working a 40 hour week, 10 times, is a lot of hours in one person’s company!

Well thank god I got on with mine.  That’s a lot of hours to be crewed with somebody who you don’t get on with, or don’t have anything in common with!

A tutor is your biggest support when you start on a shift.  You’re the newbie, you know nothing, you know nobody.  You don’t know where the toilet is, let alone how to write a statement.  There are more acronyms than letters in the alphabet, and you have no idea what they mean.

Your tutor is there when you make your first arrest, complete your first statement, book in your first prisoner, complete your first interview, receive your first complaint, get in your first fight, have your first (and second) disagreement with your boss, struggle through your first night shift, get your first job binned by Investigations, make your first (and second, third & countless more) mistake, find your first dead body, but most importantly, they are your first friend, and mine was the best.

I will forever be thankful for the amount of stupid questions of mine he answered, for the amount of support he gave me, and the amount of time he spent listening to me when I was struggling.  I owe my career so far to him and his patience.

Why do your shift become your family?

-Everyone in the job says their shift is their second family. Everyone not in the job doesn’t understand.

Comments like “you just work with them” or “they’re only colleagues” couldn’t be further from the truth. Because they aren’t. I honestly don’t think the bond you have with your shift is something anyone can relate to, unless they’ve been in the job.

We work a 40 hour week….well aside of the overtime, the shifts that finish four hours late, and the cancelled rest days. We start at 7am in the morning, which means we’ve left our home and loved ones before they’re awake. We finish our late shifts at 11pm, which means we miss dinner time at home. We start our night shifts at 10pm, which means we miss evenings cuddled up on the sofa watching trashy T.V.

I have more dinner dates at work than I do with my husband. I spend more evenings at work than on my sofa. I spend more hours a day with my shift family than my own family. So what? It’s just a job. Everyone works.

But as a shift family we do the following –

  1. We have breakfast together before responding to a domestic.
  2. We are there for each other when we get assaulted.
  3. We help each other cut down the young man who has hung himself.
  4. We make sure we are okay after our first fatal car crash.
  5. We support each other when someone has made a complaint about us.
  6. We ply each other with caffeine at 6am when we should have been off at 3am and we’re still writing up the GBH from the club.
  7. We laugh with each other, because otherwise we will cry.
  8. We make plans to have dinner together then end up in Custody, with a custody sandwich instead.
  9. We try and get each other off on time because there’s always a late job when you have plans that night.
  10. We sometimes say nothing, because no words can do justice to what we’ve just seen, but that silence is comforting.
  11. We bring Christmas dinner to work, because we can’t be at home.
  12. We celebrate New Years Eve filling up the car at the petrol station, watching everyone else’s fireworks.
  13. We support each other’s decisions, when yes the right thing to do really is remove the children from their parents.
  14. We say “morning” and “goodnight” at the start and end of every shift, regardless on the time.
  15. When we are off late and still have to drive the 45 minutes home, we arrive home to messages from our shift making sure we are home safe.
  16. We are forever in debt to each other in the forms of coffee and Haribo.
  17. We stand by each other when we did everything we could, and even that wasn’t enough.
  18. We buy birthday cakes, as we can’t be with our families to celebrate them.
  19. We support each other when we’ve had to do CPR and weren’t successful.
  20. No matter how royally shit a shift we have had, we make sure we all go home with a smile on our face, ready to come back in a few hours and do it all again.

“I’m going to caution you through the drive through”

It wouldn’t be fair to paint a picture that Policing is all doom and gloom, hard and tiring.

On one chilly night shift, it was far more about hilarity than anything else!

We all (when I say all I mean about 5 of us) rolled into our 10pm briefing, plying ourselves with caffeine before the first Grade 1. There’s bound to be a classy handover from lates which one of us lucky lot will get to follow up on.

I get crewed with my “work bestie”. Happy days! A night shift always goes faster with some Haribo and silly conversations.

About 11pm we thought we best head out. We were full on caffeine and caught up on paperwork, so let’s go and see what trouble we can cause hey?!

The conversation went something along the lines of this:-

“So..what kind of job do we want tonight?!”

“Something fun. Not too much paperwork but catching the baddie would be good. Not a fight though!” (That is a story for another day)

“Oooh like a decent burglary with offender on scene?”

“Sounds good to me!”

And off we went. Radio silence for what seemed like aaaaages. To be fair anything longer than five minutes on a night shift can drag with nothing going on. But we went about town, putting the world to rights and patrolling all our hot spots.

A deployment! Wahoo! An alarm at KFC. Classy. Too right we called up straight away, nice cheeky blat across town to wake us up, and probably not much work at the end of it. Lovely job!

Our colleague came along too, you know, just in case. (Personally I think he was as tired/bored as us and just wanted a jolly!)

We drove round the building and it all seemed a-ok. Until we got to the drive through. The window was smashed. Goddam it. Nevermind! We sent our colleague on their way, as even though we were just two girls, we could handle a broken window and waiting for a keyholder thank you very much.

Sat in the car, literally in the drive through, we decided to be efficient (who knew!) and whipped out our laptops to start the paperwork. We had at least a criminal damage if not a burglary to write up now.

I get out of the car to go and meet the keyholder, leaving my colleague in the drivers seat, when something made me turn round.

Well crap. Someone’s in KFC! Where the bloody hell did they come from?! I assure you we had checked the building….*

Then he turned round. Bloody hell again. One of our well known drug users. Some days you could have a pleasant conversation with him, others you had to dodge the haymakers/dirty needles/all other rubbish he decided to launch in our direction.

Tonight however, he was sweeping. You really couldn’t write it. He was wearing a KFC coat and sweeping the floor! I think we both just stood and watched for a few seconds! My colleague, who genuinely does try to see the best in everyone, asked if he had a job there now. Well, I nearly lost it! Hilarious! No disrespect to our current trespasser, but I would have put my annual wage on him not having gained employment!

So there we are, arresting him on suspicion of burglary, THROUGH the drive through window, caution and everything! Luckily for us, he was so off his face he couldn’t work out how to get out, as there wasn’t a chance I was fitting through the tiny window in all my kit.

We called our colleague back…damn it…and he brought us the van.

The rest of the night involved statements and photographs and custody runs and without spelling it out, suggesting very strongly that they bin the stock he was helping himself to!

This will definitely go down in my “memorable job” list…probably as the funniest!

* It transpired he was hiding in the office on our arrival which genuinely was out of site of all the windows!

The first of many “one of those” jobs…

It’s no secret that throughout a career in the Police, as with any emergency service, there will be jobs you go to that you just won’t ever forget.

Sure, they’ll get easier to think about, they won’t make you cry, you won’t struggle to sleep and get flashbacks, but you’ll always remember them.  Whether it be your first suicide, first car crash, first domestic, first arrest, first time you were assaulted, things will stick in your head.  They make you who you are.

These jobs don’t just test you as a person, they test everything. You go home and don’t want to talk, your other half can’t make you feel better, nobody can relate to what you’re feeling, because the truth is, you don’t know how you feel yourself, not yet anyway.

My first “one of those” jobs was when I had about 16 weeks service under my belt.  I wasn’t being tutored any more, I could drive and go to jobs by myself, but I had only four months experience on shift.  Truth be told, nothing can prepare you for some jobs.

It was about eight o’clock in the morning, it was just after Christmas, and I was single crewed.  I was working in a different city to the one I normally do, and I was by myself.

Sat in the office, my colleague was with me. He was also single crewed.  I was trying to down a cup of tea before going to a job I had been sent to. It wasn’t ongoing, it was just to take a report.  Then I got diverted.

“We have reports of a man on the tracks”

“A man or a body?”

“We don’t know, that’s all the information we have”

Shit.  Probably one of the only jobs I’ve never wanted to go to. How do you deal with the worst case scenario? How do you even start to deal with it?

Because my colleague is ace, he jumped in with me, and we went together. I’ll never be able to say thank you enough for that. I genuinely couldn’t have dealt with that job by myself.  Because it was the worst case scenario, it was a man who had been hit by a train.

Carnage. I can’t even begin to explain how I felt when I leant over the bridge and saw what I did. Now what.  I shouted at my colleague, who lucky for them, was looking over the other side of the bridge!  We waited for Network Rail to confirm that all trains had been stopped and the lines were off, before navigating the most precarious set of steps down to the tracks.

First time for everything, I hadn’t walked on a railway line before that day, let alone dealt with this. On the outside, I was calm and doing what I had to, inside I was breaking. This was somebody’s son, maybe a dad or a husband?  That’s not important right now.  If I thought too much about that, I wouldn’t have got through the day.

Ambulance came, and quickly went, as it was clear even they couldn’t do anything to help. The Body Recovery Team, a Sergeant, another Sergeant and an Inspector all turned up. Was this a crime scene? Was it a suicide? Was it an accident?

A few hours later, the undertakers came and took the man away, then slowly but surely, we all left.

We got back in the car, and didn’t say anything.  Somehow the silence was loud. Neither of us had been to a job like that before, there were no words, but I found comfort in not being alone.

Our Sergeant called us back to the station for a debrief.  “Are you ok?” she said. I think I replied with “I don’t know”.  How do you explain how you feel after that. Numb? Upset? Scared? Shocked? All of the above?

To be honest I’m not sure even now, nearly two years later, that I could find the words to explain how I felt. I’d never dealt with trauma on that scale before. I can talk about it now without getting flashbacks, without being upset, but somehow, sometimes, it still feels like it was only last week.

You learn to cope in this job, that’s for sure. Jobs get easier, trauma becomes normal, and you find a way to cope.  I’m lucky in that my husband will give me a cuddle when I walk through the door, and then do anything in his power to distract me. He knows there’s no point in talking it over and over.  We go for dinner, or play a game, just something to distract me, and that works. I’m grateful for that, he helps more than he probably realises, he’s my rock.

 

My First Day…

Do we get called Probationers anymore? Student Officer? Probie? Newbie?  Depends where you are, who you talk to, and what they fancy to call you on the day!

Never bothered me.  I knew I was new, I knew I was in my probationary period, and I knew when I joined, that this was a two year long process.  Call me what you like, I’ll probably answer to it!

After a loooong 16 week course at a Police Training Centre, I was free to fly the nest! I was a Special Constable prior to joining up, which I thought would stand me in good stead, but my god, how different is it doing the job every day!?

I was going to work in a place I hadn’t even visited before, to a shift of strangers, and I had this horrible feeling that I would be expected to be competent already.  Thankfully I was wrong!

Before I started, I went to meet my shift.  I walked in, having remembered the three different door codes, and asked for my tutor.  “Oh he’s on his way back from a shooting, he will be here soon.”  Well, shit.  If that wasn’t a reality slap around the face I don’t know what is.  In those very few seconds, what I had just joined up to do became very real. This would be me. I would be going to those jobs.  The biggest question in my head was “and what on earth would I do if I got sent to that?” Well, it really is amazing how fast you learn.

My first “actual” day couldn’t have been better.  I got on with everyone on my shift, they all wanted to help me, everyone was friendly, and I got on with my tutor!  It’s a bit of a blur, I don’t remember what jobs we went to, but I remember going home that night, feeling content.  I did it.  My first day, often the hardest, was done, and I survived!