by Emily Hinchman
“Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on.” Robert Kennedy
November, the month for giving Thanks, was the perfect time for Scottsdale Leadership Class 33 to participate in Safe Communities Day. After spending 8 ½ hours with Scottsdale Police and Fire, I couldn’t be more grateful.
Chief of Police Alan Rodbell started us off describing Scottsdale’s Community Policing philosophy and the department’s pledge of Excellence, Initiative, and Integrity. Kind-spoken, the Chief showed a great sense of humor and even greater sense of humanity.
We split into groups to observe the K-9 unit, the MILO simulator training, and SWAT. Watching the trained dogs and their masters/officers, was a surreal experience. The dogs were hyper-alert and showed complete devotion to their handler. The officers and their dogs spend 24-7 with each other and the mutual respect and love for one another does not go unnoticed. The MILO sim training was eye-opening and cemented my choice of profession as healer, not protector. I not only missed the suspect by several feet, but also may have killed the poor cow grazing way out in the pasture. This lesson taught us about the decision-making process of an officer and how even the smallest decisions can have catastrophic consequences. Lastly, we met with members of the SWAT team. This seemed to be quite the popular experience…Listening to their specific duties within the unit, from breacher to sniper, I focused in on their armored vests. A small patch showing their blood type was stitched to a pocket located just above the heart, a symbol of their heroism and mortality. Wrapping up the morning, I regretted not saying thank you to each one of them as I wished for their continued safety.
With lunch digesting, we moved onto the Fire Department where Fire Chief Tom Shannon spoke about Scottsdale being the second largest fire system in the U.S., second only to FDNY. Scottsdale FD participates in a “shared system” meaning that from wherever you live in the valley, you are covered. Most cities in Arizona participate in this system and respond when needed to any area putting out the call.
Our fire experience began with a sprinkler demonstration that proved the importance of having updated, working sprinklers in your home and workplace. Two identical rooms were wheeled out on a platform. The room without sprinklers became engulfed in fire within 3 minutes, destroying everything in its wake, while the other room, with sprinklers, had only a small amount of fire damage to one stuffed animal. As one firefighter said, all items in the room are replaceable, but we are not. Next, we suited up into very heavy, very hot gear and stepped into a smoke-filled building using only thermal cameras to find our way out. The smoke destroyed any visibility and, with our masks fogged, we relied on tactile and voice-driven direction. Had it not been for my trust in partners Shelley and Erin, I’m not sure I would’ve remained calm for much longer. Close to my breaking point, I could make out the bright light from the sun streaming through the open back door. The three of us made it out as a team, encouraging and supporting each other to the end—a sign of not only leadership, but of friendship as well. Our last two stations were the ladder truck and managing a fire extinguisher. Standing in the bucket almost 9 stories high, overlooking Tempe, I was exhausted and ready to be home.
With each Leadership week, I find that we have moved from being strangers to friends in a short period of time. We trust each other, learn from each other, and help one another, all necessary skills for a successful team, and how Police and Fire crews survive. As I look out over the pristine desert preserve of my backyard to the twinkling lights of Tempe in the distance, I send my heartfelt thanks to the men and women of Scottsdale Fire and Police who risk their lives every day to protect our community, and in essence, to protect strangers.