Submitted by: Philly Ricketts
My story tells of an event that took place many years ago. My father was a policeman in New York City when I was very young. He rarely talks about the experience, and he would never answer my questions about saving people’s lives or dangerous situations he was in. He retired from the police force when I was 5, after 20 years’ service. A little over a decade later, after numerous attempts to find out about his time as a policeman, I found some papers in a box in our garage. They included a report that my father had typed after an incident in 1975. He and his partner responded to a call stating that a convenience store was being robbed. My father went to the back, while the other officer stayed near the front of the store. One of the men robbing the store pulled out a gun when my father confronted him. My father also had his gun out, and there was a stand off near the cashier. The man robbing the store soon grabbed the person nearest to him, who happened to be a little girl of about 3, and he shouted at my father to drop his gun or he would shoot the girl. My father had told me that one of the most important rules he learned was that a policeman should never drop his gun. So it was with trepidation and a pounding heart that I continued reading, not knowing what had occurred. Would my father put his gun down and risk his own life and that of his partner? Or would be continue to tell the robber to put his gun down and risk the life of the little girl?
In the end, my father’s report said that he dropped his gun. The robber then clung onto the money he had taken from the till and ran out of the store with his accomplice. But on the way, he shot the other officer in the chest when he tried to stop him. After reading the report, I asked my father about it, and this time he did talk to me. I asked him why, if he was forbidden to put down his gun, he did. He said that when the robber grabbed the little girl, all he could think of was me, since I was about the same age at the time. He said that he just couldn’t risk the girl being killed as a result of refusing to put his own life in danger. He said he’d never be able to face the little girl’s parents if she died. Of course, it can be argued that my father risked the lives of all the people in the store, including his own and his partner’s, and that the robber could still have shot the little girl, which is probably why the rule for a policeman not to drop his gun was made. And he should have been disciplined for his actions, although he never told me if he was. But I can’t help thinking how brave my father was to make the split-second decision he did, despite the rule. As a mother myself now, I can fully understand his decision, and if I was the mother of a little girl facing the same situation, I would be forever grateful to anyone who did the same for me and my child. The robber wanted more than anything to get away, and as soon as my father put down his gun, the robber pushed the girl away and ran off. It was only when he was confronted at the door by another officer that he pulled the trigger. Unfortunately for that officer, he was on the receiving end of that shot. He spent a long time in hospital, and his recovery was very tough. But thankfully he survived. I believe that my father still feels responsible for the pain his partner suffered, and I often wonder if he wishes he’d done anything differently.
My hero is my father. He always has been, and I wish I was half as brave as he is. I felt compelled to tell this story not only as a small tribute to my father, but also to make others stop and think just how difficult it is to work as a first responder. Obviously, many of these brave men and women risk their lives to save others. But it’s more than that. In certain circumstances, every choice, no matter how small and no matter which job as a first responder it applies to, could have potentially life-changing consequences for the first responder as well as for those they seek to help, and those choices often have to be made without any time for reflection. Thank you to all first responders who not only care enough to do these kinds of jobs and who risk their lives for strangers, but who also inevitably open themselves up to feelings of guilt and ‘what ifs’ when things go wrong.