This letter was originally sent to to the City Council.

Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Members of Council:

I write to you on the eve of an important vote. On Monday, July 23, you will consider the role that you would like first responders to play in the annual Urban Shield training. I wrote to you last year when this agenda item was first under discussion, and it seems pertinent to write you now on the heels of the letter written to you by Marc Mestrovich (a retired Berkeley fire apparatus operator).

We nearly lost Marc to suicide. In his letter (which was also published as a Berkeleyside opinion piece) he outlined the psychological and physical trauma that we face in our profession on a daily basis. We all risk this, but the best line of defense for us when facing the perils of the job also happens to be the best line of defense for your constituents, whom we are sworn to protect from harm: training. Our unflinching willingness to respond to disasters that are both inevitable and unspeakable is predicated on the belief that we can provide constructive progress towards a positive outcome: we can help provide a solution. We believe that our interjection into an emergency will reduce suffering, loss of life, and property. This belief is what allows us to respond, mitigate, clean up and restock, and do it all again. And this belief is sustained by training. Preparation is required if we are to be ready for the next big thing, which we know is coming, even if we have no idea what it is.

This Saturday you will unveil a plaque at Civic Center Park to commemorate the tragic loss of life of a group of visiting young adults. A balcony collapsed from a mid-rise apartment building. As one of the first responders working that night, I will forever remember arriving to find a pile of young bodies, most disfigured and not breathing. I would have been immediately overwhelmed by such a scene which I could have never prepared for, or imagined, in our regular training exercises. My prior involvement in Urban Shield training played a direct role in my ability to sift through the scene, moving efficiently and as effectively as I could working with first responders from other agencies, many of whom I had never met before. Most of these other responders were police officers who, having benefited from passed-down Urban Shield training, understood basic emergency medical procedures and could lend a hand. My training alongside other police responders at Urban Shield allowed me to better understand their background so that I wasn’t afraid to put them to work bandaging, protecting airways and additional spinal trauma. As you stand to commemorate this plaque on Saturday, please consider that the positive relationship that you share with a foreign office, the gratitude for the lives that could be saved in the face of tragedy, and the pride that we all take as a city in how efficiently we worked that night, is a direct result of Urban Shield.

Mr. Mayor and members of council, it’s only a matter of time before your responders are confronted with the next emergency of a scale that requires a rapid, coordinated, and efficient response from all of your first responders. We depend on each other’s expertise to allow us each to do our jobs. A team of firefighters and paramedics do not enter a violent situation without our partners in law enforcement to help keep us safe, and if we cannot depend on them to do their jobs, we can’t focus on ours. Limiting their training and capabilities will have a very real, and very negative effect on both of our abilities to save lives when seconds count. Urban Shield provides some of the highest quality training available which prepares us for what history has shown to be the inevitable. On behalf of all of Berkeley’s firefighters and paramedics, I implore you to allow us to be ready; for our sake, for yours, and most importantly for the one hundred thousand citizens in our community who believe that they have a safety net of expertly trained firefighters, paramedics, and law enforcement officers who are not only prepared for the unimaginable, but capable of engaging all risks, and all hazards, when the time calls.

Editor’s Note: Berkeleyside updated the publication time after publication due to a technical issue with our daily newsletter. No other changes were made.

Colin Arnold, a resident of Berkeley, has worked for the Berkeley Fire Department for 10 years and is a member of the Berkeley Firefighters Association union executive board.
Colin Arnold, a resident of Berkeley, has worked for the Berkeley Fire Department for 10 years and is a member of the Berkeley Firefighters Association union executive board.