Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse….
In reality, a lot of shit goes down over the Holidays in the violent crime and murder capital of Canada.
While most people view Christmas as a peaceful, joyous time of year, the reality for Police Officers, Fire Fighters and EMS workers is much different. Our memories of this joyous time of year are often shaped by the tragic events we experience as a result of our employment.
Those memories can be very difficult to suppress.
There are certain events I can’t help but recall every Christmas season.
On December 25, 1991, I was working the evening shift, 4 pm – 2 am, in cruiser car E109 with Constable Tim Diack badge #1579.
I didn’t know Tim very well before our Sergeant put us in a cruiser car together in the spring of that year. I’d just completed a year-long assignment in the Vice Division and had a whopping four (4) years Police Service under my belt.
As frightening as it may seem that made me a veteran in my Division.
Tim was an extremely powerful young man who was full of piss and vinegar. He was one of those “dark cloud” officers who always found a way to get into shit.
My job was to teach him how to avoid getting buried in it. It would be one of the more entertaining and challenging assignments of my career.
When we jumped in the cruiser car that night it didn’t take long before the police radio started cracking.
At 5:51 p.m., we were dispatched to a rooming house at 537 Langside Street regarding the report of an assault.
Whenever you took a call on Langside Street you knew you had to be prepared for anything. At one time, Langside Street was said to be one of the most dangerous streets in all of North America.
It took us less than one minute to arrive on scene.
Upon arrival I observed the residence to be a typical three-story downtown “rat hole.”
As we walked up the front sidewalk we noticed the silhouette of a man standing in a top floor window. He was back-lit by a red light, a vision one might associate with the warmth of the Christmas Season had we been in almost any other neighbourhood.
The rest of the house was in darkness.
As we entered the dimly lit den of iniquity we relied on our senses to guide us to where our services were needed.
This was a typical Langside rooming house, the filth, the squalor and the smell of stale booze filled the air as we made our way to a narrow stairway. That’s when we heard a man’s voice break the silence, “Lets get the fuck out of here,” he said.
The urgency I detected in his voice heightened my senses to the potential danger lurking in those dimly lit hallways.
Within seconds we encountered two men, “I’m the one that called you guys, there’s a guy hurt upstairs,” he said with conviction as he tried to breeze past us. “Not so fast,” I replied, this wasn’t my first rodeo.
No one was going anywhere until we knew what was going on.
The mystery would be solved when we made it to the third floor.
As I walked into the room I stood there in shock and amazement. The visual imagery confronting my eyes challenged every rational thought I possessed.
I was looking at a man lying on a couch who clearly suffered horrific head and facial injuries. As I gazed down on him I observed an absurd amount of thick crimson blood slowly seeping out of a number of gaping wounds on his face and forehead.
The blood was so thick and coagulated it resembled a steaming magma flow oozing from an active volcano.
I’d never seen anything quite like this, the blood wasn’t pooling, it was defying the laws of gravity and forming a pyramid on the man’s forehead.
When I asked what happened one of the miscreants we met in the hallway chimed in, “He just walked in here, he was like that when he come in.”
“Bullshit,” I thought to myself.
(There was no blood trail whatsoever, it was clear this guy got whacked right where he lay.)
Recognizing the serious nature of the call I reached for my portable radio and asked our dispatcher to put a “rush” on the ambulance. I wasn’t sure how much time this guy had but whatever time he did have was quickly running out.
The request for a “rush” alerts patrol units and supervisors that some serious shit had gone down. When you’re in these situations it’s always comforting to hear the radio popping with other patrol units jumping on the airwaves to volunteer their assistance.
The officers on my shift were great that way, help was never far away when you needed it.
As I waited for the arrival of back up units and paramedics I realized I was alone in the room with a dying man and my solitary thoughts.
The broken beer bottle glass, the blood spattered walls, the closets and floors told a familiar story. The heavy smell of fresh bloodletting was heightened by the extraordinarily warm temperature in the room.
(Blood has a very distinct smell, an odour that’s intensified by volume & heat.)
As I watched the man cling to life I found myself questioning my faith in humanity once more. Every laboured breath he took appeared to take him closer and closer to death’s doorstep.
In a moment of clarity I remember reminding myself this was Christmas. I thought about my little girls, the warmth of our home and the magic of the Holiday Season.
I wondered what they were doing as I looked around the violent crime scene.
It was at that moment reality slapped me in the face. I realized I had to push the thoughts of Christmas out of my mind and get back to the job of being an emotionally hardened police officer.
When the EMS unit arrived one of the paramedics gave me that look and shook his head from side to side. It was unspoken communication that confirmed what I suspected.
The man was about to become another tragic statistic in our violent, crime challenged City.
When I arrived at the hospital I stood by the victim’s bedside and watched as one of my favourite ER Doctors went to work. I’d seen Dr Urbain Ip work miracles before and stood there riveted as he began the process of evaluating the victim’s injuries.
“This might look a bit scary,” he cautioned as he explored the head wounds. His probing fingers caused blood to spurt out of the victims tear ducts and flow down the sides of his face.
He was right, it was disturbing.
I’d never seen anything quite like that before.
The images remain fresh in my mind.
This is one of my more prominent Christmas memories.
Miraculously, Dr Ip’s medical intervention saved the wretched man’s life.
In fact, I heard the guy walked out of the hospital a couple days later.
The moral of the story?
You don’t have to believe cops, fire fighters or paramedics are heroes.
Most of them don’t see themselves that way.
But you should think about them when you are in the peace and comfort of your home, enjoying Christmas dinner, or your birthday, or anniversary or any other holiday or special celebration.
You should be comforted knowing they’re out there, every day, 24 / 7, doing an often thankless, difficult job that can change their perception of the world. A job that can alter them and sometimes profoundly injure them, both physically and emotionally.
You should appreciate their sacrifice.
You should be thankful for their service.
I know I am.
This story is dedicated to all Police Officers & Civilian Staff members, Paramedics and Firefighters who make the sacrifice to serve and protect us during the holiday season and special occasions.
That appreciation is extended to members of our Military Service, Doctors and Nurses and any other profession that requires a similar sacrifice.
Thank you for your service.
Note: Previously published in December 2015