Language Barrier by Jay

22

The air was cool and crisp, the temperature just right.  It was the perfect type of night for patrolling the streets of Chicago.  You need to have your windows rolled down to hear what the city is saying.  Your eyes can only take in so much so you depend on your other senses to get a feel for the streets.  You listen for breaking glass, that escalating argument or screeching tires.  You can smell a rain storm coming before the first drops hit your windshield.

Tonight the smell was unmistakable.  It was smoke.  And it wasn’t the good kind of smoke.  This wasn’t the smell of charcoal and lighter fluid from that late night barbeque or the smell of a hickory log burning in a backyard fire pit. This was dirty smoke.  Something big was burning.  In this densely populated neighborhood it could be coming from anywhere.  It could be a stolen car set on fire in an alley, a graffiti covered garage or a house fire.  I stop my squad car in the middle of the street to try and determine which direction the light breeze is blowing from.  Just then I hear it.  The sound of sirens begins to whirl from the direction of the firehouse nearby.  They know where the smoke is coming from.  My silent radio comes to life as the dispatcher tells me to ride with the fire department.  There’s a three flat on fire just two blocks over.

I pull onto the congested one way street and see the fire engine heading my way.  People in pajamas are waiving us over towards the brown brick three flat.  I park my squad car up on the lawn three doors down from the fire.  My first responsibility when responding to assist the fire department is to stay out of their way.  Instinct makes officers want to park right in front of the burning building, kick in the front door and start searching for victims.  In reality, one improperly parked police car can cause havoc at a fire scene.  In the police academy they try to drill into your head that you’re never to block a fire hydrant or street when responding to a fire.  It can cause big delays in getting the properly equipped firefighters with oxygen masks and hoses into a burning building.  To my knowledge, no officer has ever gotten in trouble for parking on the lawn of a neighboring house at the scene of a fire.

The firefighters start pulling hoses off their truck and donning their air masks.  As I run down the gangway to the back of the building I see an ambulance pull up in the alley and park.  In the rear yard I find a slightly built middle-aged man of Indian decent sitting in the grass with his arms gently resting on his knees looking up at the burning building.  As I starting yelling at him to get out of the yard he starts yelling back.  We both quickly realize that he doesn’t speak my language and I don’t speak his.  I grab him by his bicep and try to direct him to his feet.  He pulls back and starts yelling back at me.  At this point firefighters are bringing ladders down the gangway to set up in the yard.  They yell for me to get him away from the building.  I scoop up the angry little man under his arms and drag him kicking and screaming towards the ambulance in the alley.  As I prop him up against the garage I call to the paramedics.

“This one isn’t cooperating.  I’ll be right back.  If he gives you any problems let me know.”

Back to the front of the building I go.  Other officers are arriving on scene and we begin corralling bystanders away from the building.  Street closures are made and the Red Cross is notified about displaced victims from the fire.  Our dispatcher chimes in over the air to let us know that the fire department has cleared the building, no victims are inside.

I make my way back to the rear of the building to check on my little friend.  He’s not where I left him so I peeked my head into the back of the ambulance to see if he gave the paramedics any problems before he left.  There he is, strapped to the stretcher.

“What’s with this guy?” I ask.

“He jumped from the third floor and broke both ankles,” said the paramedic. “I don’t think he’s too happy with you.”

With this, my little friend starts shaking his clinched fist at me and yelling in his native tongue.  How was I supposed to know he jumped?

Showing 22 comments

  • Greg Bernacki (Ret CPD)
    Reply

    Not really funny but you should buy me a keyboard for all the liquid that I sprayed on the keyboard.

    • Jim Padar
      Reply

      Sorry, we cannot be responsible for cops’ warped sense of humor! 🙂

  • Bill Kugelman [CFD,Ret.]
    Reply

    Well, For once, I read of a street cop that knows what to do at a fire scene. And knowing the dark side, I would make book that Padar took some five day IOD for smoke inhalation.

    • Jim Padar
      Reply

      And you would lose that bet. For shame, Bill! I thought only cops could be that cynical. 🙂

  • Tony
    Reply

    Thanks for the laugh.

    • Jim Padar
      Reply

      Thanks for the read and the comment,Tony!

  • Phil Haskett
    Reply

    The little fella should be glad his ankles were the only things broken. As for eating smoke, cigarettes have done enough damage Kugie! Good story Jim!

    • Jim Padar
      Reply

      As always, thanks for reading and commenting, Phil.

  • Joanna Trotter
    Reply

    Great story & fun. The first paragraph was pure beauty though.

    • Jay Padar
      Reply

      Thanks, Joanna. This was a fun story to write. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading.

  • Chuck Dulay
    Reply

    A young Sgt in 020 once blocked the fire trucks in his haste to be a hero. A handsome guy, worked with Jim at A4H/S and Jay in 017.

    • Jim Padar
      Reply

      Handsome you say? I thought I knew who it might be, but now I’m not sure. 🙂

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Chuck!

  • MaryAnn Dykema
    Reply

    I can relate to the sounds and smells of the city, seemed like each neighborhood had its very own smell. I no longer live in Illinois but still miss the smells that identified parts of my life. Loved the story and the surprise and twist at the end. Good writing.

    • Jim Padar
      Reply

      Jay is out of town this week-end but I’ll relay your comment to him. Thanks for being a loyal reader MaryAnn!

  • Fr.Tom Nangle (ret!)
    Reply

    Father and son, you both have the ability to capture these ‘little, everyday moments’ in the CPD’s average day and night and then you put into words the deeper levels of what was going on: the humor and sadness interwoven, or the heroism and sheer luck playing out, or the unspeakable evil clashing with the police presence.As Rabbi Wolf would say, “It’s all good.” Keep on writing (as if you had to be told)!

    • Jim Padar
      Reply

      Tom, thanks for being part of our lives over the years. We remain blessed with Fr. Dan Brandt and Rabbi Moshe Wolf and all the other chaplains. How fortunate Jay and I are, along with the entire department!

  • Fr.Tom Nangle (ret!)
    Reply

    Thank me? No, thank you. I’m the luckiest guy in the world cuz I got to spend all those years with all y’all and I know my pals Moshe and Dan feel just as lucky as I do.

  • John J. O'Ryan CPD/RET
    Reply

    I had something like that off duty. I drove up to a young girl sitting in the street. I told her that it could be dangerous to sit there. She said “Yeah but I just got hit by a car” Whoops

    • Jim Padar
      Reply

      Oh, how many times have all of us made an assumption or judgement call that wound up being entirely off target? “Whoops” is right.

  • Steve Bigden
    Reply

    As good and as nice as Father Brandt and Rabbi Wolf are, I think it’s safe to say we all miss Father Nangle.

    • Jim Padar
      Reply

      And that’s as it should be, Steve. Nothing stays the same. Nangle was a fixture for so many years, and an exceptional man in a hundred different ways.

      But Brandt is an excellent fit and a fine man in his own right. He hit the ground running and never tried to “be like Nangle.” That’s a good thing I think. The department is blessed to have him.

      And Rabbi Wolf—what can I say. We still have him and he brings a smile to my heart every time I talk with him.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Tom Moran CFD
    Reply

    I like Kugies comment, I used to asked my brothers John & Barry CPD, if they actually told you guys in the academy to take the front of the building, saw your story on April 68,my paper route back then, Ferdinand to Chicago, Pine to Lockwood, my brothers related similar stories, very smoky night even by us at Chicago & Lockwood, smoke traveled,

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