Our Good Fortune: Three Profiles of Our First Responders (Part 1 -Brandon, DEL '10)

Our Good Fortune: Three Profiles of Our First Responders (Part 1 -Brandon, DEL '10)

By: John Hunt

“We have to win, because if we lose, there is no one after us.” -Brandon

When we hear sirens wail our attention is involuntarily compelled and our minds focused suddenly, consciously and subconsciously. Fear! Alarm! Concern! The sirens also bring the first responders who embody a calm, orderly presence. But below that organized surface they are ready to confront the turmoil, chaos and upheaval of society they are called upon to normalize. They battle (no metaphor) on the front lines, for us, natural disasters, such as
wild winds and floods, as wicked blizzards and ice storms, as raging forest fires which are too numerous and too dangerous. These horrors have a large human cost in deaths, destruction, ruin and sorrow causing much heart break and weeping. Then our troopers spring into action, thank goodness, and goodness it is. In addition, they are also our shield in confronting the very human tangles in society: the all too creative criminal mind, the complexities of
pervasive mental illness, domestic disputes, a dismal normal reality states Brandon of the O.P.P., homelessness and rampant drug abuse. Sadly, we are all aware that there are many more hard ships that may pounce upon us, at their convenience, not ours. 

So, our first responders are our first resort, our last resort and everything in between. The calamities that may befall us are surely unwelcome but it is just as certain a soothing consolation to know our grads share a calm, trained professional response, with steady hands, prepared minds, great resilience and ready courage. Because of their talents many of the cares we might have had fly away since we know that a strong wall of protection is there for us when chaos crashes into our lives shaking our complacency. Then we breathe a sigh of relief because they, not us, deal with the risks and challenges inherent in daily life. Reducing
or removing immediate harm, they prevent many tears from falling by their timely intervention.
They provide peace, order and tranquility for most of us as one peaceful day slides into
another.

Moreover, as Marco notes in his summary (Part 3), constant learning is necessary. They must be conversant with such matters as new building materials which burn hotter and collapse buildings. New technologies must be mastered. Marco, again, says many of his associates, like him, have Masters degrees. They have to be creative, as Antoine (Part 2) says, for all situations are fluid these days. They have challenging schedules (Brandon). Daily they risk everything “to protect life property and the environment” (Marco). Here, then are their stories (in three parts) in their own words, a glimpse into the ranks of the brave, gripping and insightful.


 

Brandon, DEL ‘10
Perhaps the most obvious indicator of the effect that Del had on me is that I keep returning. Familiar faces seem fewer each time, but walking through the halls and catching glimpses of – or if I’m lucky, exchanging words with – the people who shaped my life is a very unique kind of reward that I don’t find elsewhere. 

My first extracurricular pursuit at Del stemmed from the public speaking and debate club run by Santino Bellisario. There, unbeknownst to me, I was developing the improvisational speaking skills that have saved not only my life but the lives of others. Being able to project my voice and clearly  communicate commands is an important and obvious skillset for any police officer, but having the tact to de-escalate a situation – a skill I developed through
debating, where I learned to dissect both sides of an argument – has served me far better than a stern glare and repeated shouting. Sometimes, however, de-escalation is impossible, and a confrontation is necessary. In these cases, continuing to communicate with the subject is crucial to distract them and buy time for additional units to arrive.

I later joined the De La Salle Cadet Corps run by LCol. Joseph Nonato. The correlation there is far more obvious wearing a standard paramilitary uniform, conducting drill, shining boots…
But more than that, the cadet program  was instrumental into shaping me into the man I am today. The management and leadership skills imparted through the program are vital and in sad supply in my experience. Learning to act as part of a larger unit and eventually even command that group is a challenging journey, but the program offers the close mentorship and support that makes the journey not only bearable, but valuable. 

My application to the Ontario Provincial Police came on the heels of approximately 5 years of military service with the Royal Regiment of Canada. Policing was something I had considered, but not seriously until about 2 years prior to my application. The application process is grueling and invasive, requiring extensive record checks, reference checks, psychological tests, physical fitness tests, and even fingerprinting. You even have a police officer assigned to investigate your background and visit your home! At the end of the
process, if selected, you are offered a posting and get whisked away to the Ontario Police College and then the Provincial Police Academy. From there, you begin your time ‘on the road’. 

As a frontline officer, I exclusively work 12 hour shifts, alternating between day and night shifts. Though different detachments handle scheduling differently, I work 4 or 5 shifts in a row, rotating between days and nights. (i.e. day, day, day, night, night or day, day, night,
night, night)

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the job is never knowing what will happen -being expected to drop everything that I’m working on whenever an emergency call comes across the air. That being said, it is also the most exhilarating feature! I always have something new
to sink my teeth into, and every day involves learning something new and getting better at doing my job.

The most difficult part, though, is making peace with the things that you experience. The sights, sounds and even smells associated with traumatic events will latch onto you, no matter how steady your mental health. Every day I am called upon to interact with people
who are undergoing one of the worst days of their lives, and often there is little I can do to make things better. 

That being said, there are a lot of opportunities to make things better. Our most common calls are for domestic disputes, and mental health crises. ‘Domestics’ are often an ugly and difficult
matter to deal with. Domestic abuse is a dismally normal reality for many people, and perhaps the most depressing commonality is how often the victims will downplay or outright deny the abuse. In these situations, it becomes difficult to make the victim feel safe and to demonstrate that we take the crimes they have suffered seriously. Once we establish that rapport and learn what has transpired, we can extricate the abuser from the relationship and provide resources to help the healing process begin. 

When we encounter someone in the midst of a mental health crisis, they often pose a threat to themselves or other people. Often times these episodes are brought on by excessive or prolonged drug use, which exacerbates underlying mental health issues. In either case, when a person is that far removed from reality, we step in to apprehend them as best we can, which can be extremely difficult given the delirium that some people experience. Regardless, we unfortunately are the last resort.

This idea of police officers as the last resort is something that didn’t really cross my mind until I had spent some time working as one. It is an unfortunate reality that we have to be equipped with so many avenues for the application of force, but as I said earlier, we are required to be ready to respond to anything. There is no ‘passing of the buck’. This means that general competitive spirit falls far short of what is necessary in the wold of policing; we have to win, because if we lose, there is no one else after us.

To read Part 2: Antoine, DEL '03, click here.
To read Part 3: Marco, DEL '07, click here.

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