Friday, April 9, 2010

Signal 13

Early Easter Sunday morning, Hector Ayala was killed in a one car collision as he rushed to the aid of a Signal 13. A fellow officer who was responding to a fight call at a nearby restaurant needed assistance and called for a "Signal 13"-the police code for an officer in trouble. When this code goes out, all officers know that one of their brothers may be in a life or death situation and all effort is made to render assistance quickly.

Officer Ayala lost his life trying to save another. From what I have heard, this was par for the course for this amazing man. He touched so many lives in his short seven-year tenure as a Montgomery County Police Officer, including saving the life of a man attempting to commit suicide at the Glenmont Metro Station. He worked the midnight shift, but often came out on his off time to help translate Spanish for fellow officers. He was devoted to his wife and 15 month old son; coworkers described how happy he was to learn that he and his wife were expecting triplets this June.

As the wife of a police officer, this is hard to process.

As long as I have known Pat, I have had to struggle with the idea of him being put in harm's way; when we met he was already attending the police academy. Of course, I had no idea that early on that I would become his wife. I had no real idea what that would mean.

While we were dating and definitely after we got engaged, people would often ask me if I were scared for him, or I ever worried when he worked? They were difficult questions to answer. I would answer of yes, I worried, but I couldn't let it consume me. But, I didn't find myself worrying as often as other people seemed to think I should. I hadn't really be faced with anything that had caused me to worry too much, I guess I was in denial.

A few months into our marriage, I received a phone call from Pat's Sergeant that brought it all home to me. He called to tell me that Pat was on his way home and to "not freak out if he was covered in blood-he was ok." WHAT!?! How do you not freak out to that? A signal 13 had been called for a County officer responding to a domestic situation. While it was out of Pat's jurisdiction, he was one of the first on the scene. When Pat arrived home, he was NOT covered in blood, but did have some on his shoes. He filled me in on what happened and it felt good to know the whole story. That was the first time I remember being faced with the fact that at any time he could be that fallen officer.

Since then, there have been a few more local police deaths, including a young man that Pat attended the Police Academy with. Each one tugs at my heart and reminds me how quickly things could change.

As a police wife, I have learned that there are two types of police marriages. One in which the officer talks to his spouse about his or her day and gives them a glimpse into what they go through. The other, where there is a clear and distinct separation of work and home life. Mine is the former, more rare type of marriage. Many officers believe because it would make it too scary for those at home and would bring the stress of their job into their home. I believe to the contrary.

Maybe it is because I am a counselor by profession, or maybe it is just because of who we are as people and the mutual trust and respect we have for each other, but Pat and I couldn't imagine our marriage without full disclosure. Especially now that he is in a management role, Pat often runs situations past me and we bounce ideas back and forth. He recommends to his officers to keep their spouses informed to relieve the stress of the job. Unfortunately, not a whole lot of them follow his advice. I am a firm believer that ignorance breeds fear; if we have no idea what is going on, we build up an amazing fear of what could be going on instead of what is really happening. I am sure, Pat keeps some things to himself, and that is fine. But hearing about the types of calls he goes on and the way he handles situations, helps me to know the type of officer he is and that he has the skills to keep himself and those around him safe.

Thankfully, when he reached the rank of Sergeant, the amount of actual street time decreased. Now that he is a Lieutenant, it is even less. However, there is always that fear and concern in the back of my mind (and his) that keeps us on our toes. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't offer up a silent prayer for his (and his brothers in blue) safety.

My heart goes out to the Ayala family and especially his wife. Thank God for the kindness of legislators and strangers that there is financial help for the families of officers who die in the line of duty. Both the Federal and State governments have set up compensation for the families and COPS (Concerns of Police Survivors)does a wonderful job of providing many services to the family. There is also a fund set up by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35 to aid the family.

In Memoriam:
Officer Hector Ayala
Badge Number 2128
End of Watch 4/4/2010

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