- Three days ago I was driving down a busy street when a few cars ahead of me there was a near head-on accident. This has happened to me a few times where one minute you are scanning the roadway and the next you are laying on the brakes as you watch dust and debris fall down from the sky. It takes your mind a few second to realize what just happened and then you look around at the damage and say "holy cow" or some other more colorful phrase. After pulling onto a side street, which was where I was going anyway, I called 911. There were already people converging on the accident scene so having me there as well would have been of little use but I was surprised that I was the first person to call about the accident. I gave the reason for my call, the location of the accident, an estimate of the damage (ie: mechanism of injury was a fairly high speed crash so they should probably send an ALS ambulance response) and a description of the vehicles (my description was "you can't miss it--there are two vehicles in pieces all over the intersection" and the operator just said "oh"). In the city, with help nearby, I tend not to get involved in running over to help. If this had occurred in a remote or rural place then I would have jumped in and helped until assistance arrived.
- Yesterday I was leaving an office when a man came in ranting and raving. Since the office had its own security officer I let him handle the confrontation but waited a ways away in case the confrontation escalated. The man appeared to be on drugs or mentally ill, or possibly both, and while I have had occasion to deal with such people in the past, it's best not to have a whole group of people surrounding him. Generally if you leave them an escape route (ie: not block the door) and talk to them in a non confrontational way, they will wander off which is actually what the guy did. Again, since this was in the city, the incident didn't escalate, and the police were called, then it is best to let the authorities deal with the situation.
- Today I was in a small store standing in line when two young people in front of me set a six-pack of beer on the counter. The clerk bagged it up and when he asked them for the money, the kids grabbed the bag and ran off. Oddly enough they ran out the door and jumped in to their car which was parked close by. I looked through the door and go the license plate number and gave it to the clerk who called the police. If it was a stolen car then they may get away but if it was their own car (or their parents car) then they really are idiots.
Also, in the last two incidents, escalating the situation could have led to a much worse outcome.
I was, of course, armed, but none of these incidents rose to the level where pulling a weapon would have been appropriate. In the case of the crazy guy, he did not appear to be armed and there were enough people around to have subdued him if necessary (although subduing someone on PCP is an entire article in itself). In the third case, theft is not a reason to draw a weapon on someone (although someones I wish it was but anyway...). I have seen too many incidents where someone is caught up in the moment, pumped full of adrenaline, and doesn't take a few seconds to think the situation through then decides to go all Rambo on a thief and it ends up badly for all involved (note that a thief in your home, IMHO, would deserve a whole different--armed--response).
The general rules for handling any of these type of emergent situations are:
- Call 911 first before acting. Once you are in the middle of the situation, whether it is performing CPR or holding someone at gunpoint, you won't be able to just stop and dial 911.
- Assess the situation before you act. Look at the incident then look around (ie: are there other people waiting to jump in on behalf of the perpetrator, are there downed power lines which could pose a danger to rescuers, is there more going on than just the incident you are seeing)
- Determine the best course of action. Instead of running into the center of the fray like a mad man, determine how best you can help. It could mean watching and waiting, it could mean providing emergency assistance such as grabbing a fire extinguisher from your car or performing CPR, it could mean writing down as many details of the incident as possible to provide to law enforcement. In some cases it could mean acting--usually this is a split second decision which needs to be made quickly and after a logical evaluation (ie: I would jump in if there was a physical assault on someone who could not fight back but I wouldn't physically go after someone who steals $5 worth of beer or even a car for that matter since a material item isn't worth the possible negative outcome).
- Wrap up the situation. Whether it is ensuring that the police arrive before you leave the scene, providing necessary information to EMS staff or law enforcement, or calling your lawyer (something you should do any time you pull a weapon whether you were in the right or not), you will wrap up the situation and leave the scene. Be sure to take a few deep breaths to dissipate some of the adrenaline you are feeling then go on your way. Obviously if you were in the middle of a traumatic incident there is more to wrapping up the situation...
- After action. It is standard practice in many arenas (military, law enforcement, the medical field, etc) to conduct an after-action review of the incident that just happened. On your own, you can do the same by reviewing what happened, considering what went well, and considering what went not so well. For the things that went not so well, consider what should have been done to have had a better outcome. For example, if someone collapsed at your feet and you had to perform CPR but couldn't remember exactly how to do it besides doing some chest compressions, you may want to take a CPR class to refresh your skills. If you hopped out of your car in the middle of an intersection to run to help people who were in the accident and nearly go run over by drivers who were too busy looking at the accident to see you in the street, make a mental note that you either need to park somewhere safe or check to see that there are enough people parked behind you and all traffic has come to a halt before you get out of your car in order to ensure your safety next time.