Delayed Response: Thoughts on Public Safety from a Frontline Firefighter/Medic
We are standing on the corner waiting for the bus to pick up my kids, when I see it. A beautiful, four-door, newer model ¾ ton pickup truck comes around the corner and slows down as it approaches the bus stop. What happened next is the stuff my nightmares are made of.
As EMTs, paramedics, and firefighters, we have all been asked one question that makes me cringe every time: “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen?” I may try to explain my frustrations with this question in a future article, but for now let me assure you a child’s life ruined by senseless trauma tops the list.
The passenger window rolls down to reveal a little girl no older than six or seven standing in the passenger seat unrestrained! “Hey! Hey!” she yells to her friend who’s standing at the bus stop with us. As she tries to get her friend’s attention, she rests her waist against the window sill and leans her entire upper body out the window of the truck while it is still driving down the road! Frustrated her friend hasn’t noticed her, she begins banging on the outside of the door with her fists.
Even sitting here writing this my blood is beginning to boil. How can this be happening? The girl’s mother sits in the driver’s seat, slowing down to give her daughter a chance to make a scene and just casually keeps her eyes on the road. How can any parent in their right mind possibly allow something like this to happen?
Finally, the girl gets her friend’s attention. “Can you come over later? Ask your mom!” The friend begins to answer, but the girl in the truck can’t quite hear over the grumble of the engine. She turns to face her mother and says something I can’t understand. The truck came to a stop! As other parents stare in stunned silence, the truck begins to back up right there on the public road so the little girl can continue this absurd conversation. When the conversation is complete the girl retreats back into the truck and rolls up the window. They drive off toward the school.
I have been trying to process this scene for days and I just can’t wrap my head around it. This woman was clearly aware of her child’s actions. I should have done something. What could I have done that wouldn’t have made me look equally crazy? Driving such a large, well maintained vehicle, I can only assume she could afford a booster seat. At the very least, there are seatbelts in the truck the young girl could be wearing.
So, how? How could she possibly allow her child to take such horrifying risks? If you asked this woman if she loves her child, what do you think her answer would be? I’m sure she will tell you she loves her daughter. I’m sure she would never want anything bad to happen to this young girl. Yet, despite all the tragic stories we hear every day, and despite the obvious dangers with hanging out of a moving vehicle, she allows her daughter to behave in this manner.
How do we, as public safety professionals, address this topic in a productive manner? How do we appeal to a parent’s sense of reason and responsibility for their child without making them feel we are simply another special interest group trying to force our values on them?
I wish I had the answers. Maybe this article will help to spark a conversation that can make a difference, because I don’t think I can handle many more nightmares like that.
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Tom Valle earned his EMT certification in 2000. After graduating from UMass, Amherst in 2001, Tom worked private ambulance in both Springfield and Greenfield, MA while earning his paramedic certification from Greenfield Community College. He continues to work as a professional firefighter/paramedic in western Massachusetts and serves as the secretary for union’s Local. Tom is continuing his education by working towards a Bachelor’s in Fire Science through Columbia Southern University.
Tom can be reached directly at
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