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First responders risk life & limbs every day

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POSTED March 4, 2013 1:17 a.m.

When the first responders – firefighters, policemen and other emergency personnel – rushed to the twin towers of the World Trade Center after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the main thing on their mind was to save lives. That’s what these brave men and women are trained to do. That’s their mission. Tragically, on that fateful day, the price they paid was their lives.

That’s what came to mind as I watched the Manteca Police officers and, later, their colleagues from neighboring cities providing mutual aid, as well as firefighters from Manteca and Lathrop converge on a business compound where a man, who was trying to steal a delivery truck, and surrounded by propane gas tanks barricaded himself for four hours Wednesday night. It was clear the first responders’ intent was focused on stabilizing the potentially explosive situation to avert any escalation and further tragedy from developing, and to help the man who barricaded himself inside one of the company’s delivery trucks. He had rammed his pickup through the fence of the business compound, hitting a propane gas pump resulting in a fire that sent flames up to 30 feet in the air, and then tried to drive away with the delivery truck but could not because the vehicle was secured.

Given the location, the flammable products that surrounded the man and the first responders, and the fact the man had weapons in his person plus an air gun which he used to shoot an employee of the business who was not harmed – these later came out in the subsequent investigation following the man’s surrender and arrest – there was a potential for an explosive turn of events.

But everyone remained calm. Even the voice of the officer who spoke via a loudspeaker in an effort to flush out the man sequestered inside the truck remained calm and convincing.

“Put your hands out the window and you’ll not be hurt.”

“I know you’re hurt. I need you to come out of your car so we could give you water and help you. We need to get you medical attention.”

“I know you need your mom. We need you to come out so you can make a phone call to your mom.”

 “I know your mom wants to talk to you just as much as you want to talk to her.”

“I know you’re thirsty. I have Manteca Ambulance here that has water.”

At this point, it appeared no one knew the name of the person inside the truck. Later, the negotiator from the Manteca Police Department addressed the man by name.

“Michael, what’s your mother’s name so we can call her? We can’t help you if you don’t communicate with us.”

“Michael, come out of the truck. We’re not going to leave you here alone.”

 “Come on out with your hands in the air so I can get you some help, Buddy. Mike, I’m trying to work with you.”

And so on and on it went through the night for the next approximately four hours. The negotiator’s voice never cracked, never wavered, never grew hoarse, never sounded impatient.

Overhead, a helicopter flew in circles with its powerful search light zoomed in on the area where the officers were converged around the man in the truck inside the company property.

At around 8:41 p.m., the SWAT team arrived and entered the compound where the effort to get the man out of the truck and surrender his weapons continued.

Shortly before 11 p.m., one of the three ambulance units parked on the road in front of the gate to the business compound, finally entered the gate to where the officers and SWAT team were converged. At around 11:02, the ambulance drove out of the compound and turned south toward southbound Highway 99, its bright blinking lights piercing the dark pre-midnight hour.

The inaudible collective sigh of relief was palpable in the darkness you could almost cut it with a knife. The moon, which started rising on the eastern horizon shortly after 8 p.m. like a giant orange, was now a smaller version of its earlier self but casted a brighter light below like that of a fluorescent lamp.

Even the moon seemed smiling that a potential tragedy was averted. Thanks to the men and women who, on a daily basis, risk life and limb to make the world a safer place for everybody. Yes, even to people like the man named Michael.

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