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    Out on the Front Lines

    By Lt. Lenny Broberg

    The recent Boston marathon bombing made me and many others stop and think: What would I have done? If you had heard the explosions, which way would you have run? Chances are you would have run away from the perceived danger. That’s understandable, because our natural instincts compel us to run to safety.  But as a police officer and first responder, I would have been thinking how to run safely to the scene of the blast and about how I could help those who had been injured. That is the way a first responder thinks.

    First responders include police, fire and EMS personnel. All of us are trained to be the first ones on the scene of a medical emergency. We try to take control of a bad situation, to offer assistance and to restore order. This is our job. It sometimes requires that our safety becomes secondary in order for us to help others.

    During 9/11, there were hundreds of police, fire and EMS personnel in the towers after the initial plane crashes. They were well aware of the danger that existed, but innocent people needed help and they responded. Unfortunately, as the buildings collapsed, many of these brave men and women died as they were attempting to save others. Even today, it is estimated that approximately 70 per cent of those 9/11 first responders have some form of serious or terminal lung disease. They responded as they were trained to do, with the priority being to think of others and their needs.

    I have responded many times to the scenes of accidents, shooting and homicides. When I arrive at a scene, there is one thing that I cannot bring with me and that is my emotions. My emotions cannot dictate how I do my job since someone’s life may depend on my actions. My preservation of a crime scene may dictate someone being held accountable for the crime they committed or going free. I also might be able to console a victim and help them flee a situation of abuse.

    Because I control my emotions, I have been accused of being cold, mean and uncaring. My job requires a stern and stoic exterior even though the interior is a maelstrom of emotions. I wish I could fully share the times that I was afraid when bullets were being fired, or when I was chasing an armed suspect through the dark night not knowing if or when he would turn fire at me. I wish I could convey to you my emotions when I have gone home and shed tears for the dead infant that I had to remove from her mother’s arms, for the young man shot dead in the street and the loss of so much promise, for the grieving mother whom I had to inform that her daughter did not survive the car accident.

    All of these thoughts came to mind when I saw the iconic Boston Marathon picture of three Boston police officers standing over a fallen runner. This image drew up a number of poignant emotions. The picture also created a bit of a stir as people were commenting on the gay officer in the picture.

    Off. Javier Pagan is openly gay and was the Boston PD GLBT Liaison. He was right there, near the bombs and injured people, and he was doing his job. The media coverage about him grew when it was discovered that his partner was a retired NYC police officer that assisted in rescue operations after 9/11.

    Many of the comments I heard indicated a level of surprise that an LGBT officer would be in that kind of a situation. The conversation went back and forth until someone finally said, “Who cares. He is a cop who happens to be gay. He was there to help and he did.” I guess, with that statement, I felt the best emotion of all—pride. I am proud that an officer, a first responder, was doing what he was trained to do: to assess the situation, attempt to gain some control and to help those in need. And, he happened to be gay.

    Lt. Lenny Broberg is a member of the San Francisco Police Department. He is also a long-time community activist and former Mr. International Leather.