By Hannah FurbeckMore law enforcement officers in the United States died in traffic-related incidents than from any other single cause of death, including gunfire, for 14 of the last 15 years. These men and women spend much of their time working to make sure the rest of us can travel safely on our nation’s roads and highways. And although the number of drivers and passengers killed in automobile crashes has declined by 20% since 1970, the number of law enforcement officers killed on our roadways has soared by more than 25% in that same time period. (Statistics provided by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.)
I am the wife of a police officer. I fell in love with everything about him, including the uniform. There are days when I wish I would have known that the uniform entails a lot of sacrifice. Our family does not have a normal scheduled life. We are subjected to many dinners without him, family gatherings that he can’t attend, school activities missed, and birthday parties on Tuesdays because that is his day off. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. He is proud of the job he does and we are proud of him.
My husband has spent the last 23 years in law enforcement. He has worked in almost every aspect of law enforcement from road patrol to traffic officer to now being an investigator. As you can image, he has experienced a lot over the years. When he talks of retirement and the things he looks forward to, there is one consistent thing he always says. He looks forward to the day where he doesn’t have to deal with death anymore. He says he has seen more death than a normal person should. He has seen the devastation that families have gone through when they lose a loved one unexpectedly.
This man has worked horrible accidents where the images of injuries and death are forever ingrained in him. He puts those images, thoughts, feelings and emotions in a place that I like to call “Pandora’s Box”. I have learned over the years of our marriage that my husband shares what he needs to about his day and then bottles up what is left in Pandora’s Box. He doesn’t do this because he does not care or does not have compassion. He simply doesn’t want to relive the horrific images embedded in his mind. He doesn’t want to relive having to go to a family’s house to deliver devastating news. He says the saddest part of all of the fatality accidents he has worked is that all of them could have been prevented with the simplest of tasks, such as wearing a seatbelt or paying attention.
My husband is one of the millions of men and women in this profession that wake up every day to put on that uniform, leave their homes to serve the citizens and honor the badge they wear. He’s not the only law enforcement officer with a box to hide and lock away feelings and images. I’m convinced that the box comes standard with the uniform. In essence, the families that have lost loved ones in traffic-related accidents are not the only ones who experience grief. In some way, shape or form, the law enforcement officer mourns, too.
This is why I urge you to please give our emergency vehicles extra room to work on the roadways. Pay attention and obey the traffic laws that were put in place in an attempt to keep us safe. Please be mindful of ALL of the lives of those you would impact should you choose not to be safe on our roadways. Be alert, be aware, be alive.
Hannah Furbeck is the Director Saline County Emergency Management. Her husband, Sean, is the Master Patrol Officer for the Salina Police Department.