It was dark. Probably because it was night.
It was cold. Probably because it was winter.
And I was lost. Probably because I didn't really know where I was.
But I did know that this wasn't an area known for its hospitality.
So far so normal.
I'd been an EMT for about two years at this point, and had faced many fears, many unusual sights, and many challenges. I was still very much on the upward swing of the learning curve, but on this shift I had to learn and teach all at once, as Jill, my crewmate for the evening, had been out of training school for less than 3 months.
A call to an unconscious male on a Saturday night is a fairly normal one, usually leading to us finding someone under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both. The vast majority of these cases occur in a public place, so getting a call to a private address for a 30 year old unresponsive man was a little strange.
As is the norm when we arrive at high-rise apartment blocks, the lift wasn't working, so it would be a hike up to the 6th floor with all our kit. As we arrived at the apartment, the door was open, so we knocked and walked in. The door shut behind us and made me jump. It was the first sign that something just wasn't right.
Jill and I found him lying on the floor, fully clothed and in a coat, eyes shut, but eyelids flickering. An almost certain sign of pseudo-unconsciousness. A fake. I took a step back and called out to him. Jill was still standing by the front door, uncertain how to proceed. Something still felt wrong, so I asked her to go and call for police back up. With hindsight, I should have gone with.
After a couple of attempts to get him to respond by appealing to his better nature, I approached him and shook his arm. In a blur, he jumped up from the floor, stood up over me, and pulled out a pistol from his coat. His eyes burned with an inexplicable hatred, and I was trapped. The "patient" stood between me and the door. I had no idea if the gun was real or not, and didn't really want to hang around long enough to find out that it was.
Jill came across a couple of officers on the 3rd floor who were there by chance dealing with a domestic incident and asked them to come upstairs. She couldn't explain to them any better than I could explain to her what the problem was, but as she was new, she told the officers that she was effectively just following orders on a hunch. The three of them ran back up the stairs and found the door locked. The police called for urgent back-up.
It felt like a lifetime before I heard the screeching of several sets of tyres outside. In reality it was apparently only 6 or 7 minutes. The gunman kept screaming through the doors for them to stay out or he'd shoot. I believed him. The sound of the army running up the stairs meant they did too. Within seconds of that sound, the door splintered into a million pieces, armed police came charging in, and in a fry of Tasers took hold of the gunman as well as the gun. His flatmates stood no chance either against the 40 or so officers who seemed to pile in from every which way.
Several hours of debrief and multiple cups of coffee later, it was time to go home. Just before I left the police station one of the officers came in and told me that the gun was a real one, and loaded. This had been a close encounter of the worst kind. I kept that night a closely guarded secret for a very long time. I'm still not sure I should have said anything at all.
I gave my daughter an extra-long hug that morning when I got home. It was a very different, much needed, best kind of close encounter.