- Associated Press - Saturday, March 19, 2016

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho (AP) - For the detectives who work together every day in Coeur d’Alene, there is nothing they wouldn’t do for each other, from moving a couch to putting their lives on the line.

Coeur d’Alene Police detectives Jared Reneau, Nic Lowry and Johann Schmitz see each other every day, even on their days off.

When they’re able to get together outside work and have a barbecue, they talk about life - not work. There is no need to ask each other what they did at work that day because they already know. Instead, they talk about things like family, or the presidential election.

It’s a special bond shared by police officers and firefighters alike.

Some call it brotherhood and others call it family, but all agree it is more than that.

“We work so closely together in situations where we are basically holding each other’s lives in our hands, it creates a bond that I think is a little bit different than in an office environment,” said Post Falls Police Officer Brenda Knight.

Reneau was in the Marine Corps before entering law enforcement. It was a natural transition for him, he said, because the bond created by working together with the same group of people is similar. He said it really does come down to trust, which comes from the volume of hours working with someone.

He said, fortunately, there is no one at the Coeur d’Alene department he wouldn’t put that trust in.

Schmitz said that need for trust is what sets the profession apart from others because, in an instant, their job can go from helping somebody with a question about a custody agreement to somebody shooting at them.

“There’s nothing that forges relationships like stressful interactions,” Schmitz said. “When you have a stressful interaction together, and get through that together, that forges a really tight relationship.”

They depend closely on each other because, at the end of the day, they each have the same goal - to go home to their families.

Lowry has been a Coeur d’Alene officer for 15 years and he and Reneau have worked together since Reneau started about eight years ago. Schmitz has been in the detectives division for about a year, but has been at the department four years. Reneau said the shifts are not on a rotating schedule, so they work with the same group of officers day after day.

Knight, who has been in Post Falls for 15 of her 18 years in law enforcement, said she isn’t treated any differently than the male officers when it comes to “brotherhood,” although she said the term has become outdated as more women are accepted into the police force. She said they call each other brother and sister, just as any family would. Her relationships with other female officers are no different from those she has with the men.

“When I look at that person, I see my family member that I care about and I know I want to do everything I can to protect that person while we are out here,” she said.

In his 30 years at the Post Falls Police Department, Chief Scot Haug has found that the officers not only need to depend on each other in physical situations, but need to trust and support each other emotionally.

He said law enforcement is unique in that officers respond to a variety of different calls, some of them quite challenging.

“We put these officers in some of the most difficult situations that they’ll ever be in, or that anybody has ever been in, have them see things no human being should ever have to see,” Haug said. “They deal with a lot of negativity and the way they tend to cope with that, the way they can handle those situations, is to be able to talk about it and share their experiences, both positive and negative.”

He recalled a time when he responded to a car fire and the driver of the vehicle burned right in front of him.

“You can’t go out to just anybody and talk about that, so you end up talking amongst yourselves, and you share your feelings,” he said. “It creates this very tight relationship between the officers.”

At 11:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, some of the Coeur d’Alene detectives, including Lowry, Schmitz and Reneau, sneaked into the patrol side of the department and uniformed up.

By midnight, they had surprised the officers who were on patrol that night by sending them home to their families.

The original idea to take over patrol came about because the patrol officers assigned to the graveyard shift are generally younger than the detectives, with small kids at home. But even some of the detectives with small kids thought it was a great idea, so they volunteered to take over patrol as well.

Lowry said they like doing things like that because the brotherhood extends beyond the group they work with every day.

The bond extends beyond that, beyond their own department, to the brothers and sisters they have never met. This is true for all departments in general, confirmed by the outpouring of support when a fellow brother or sister is killed in the line of duty.

When Coeur d’Alene Police Sgt. Greg Moore was shot and killed in the line of duty last May, police officers from all over Idaho, Montana, Washington and Utah attended the funeral.

Reneau said the turnout for Moore’s funeral was “simply amazing.” He said everyone in the job understands the inherent risks and, ultimately, there are law enforcement officers who pay with their lives. He said it was the first, and hopefully the last, funeral for a Coeur d’Alene Police officer killed in the line of duty.

“I think it reminds us not just of the job that we do and the respect we have for the badge, but the trust we have in everybody in law enforcement,” Reneau said. “I think that’s why it brings that level of brotherhood, even amongst officers we’ve never met.”

Craig Etherton, Coeur d’Alene Fire Department fire inspector, said Moore’s death was a hit to the fire department as well. He said they would see Moore when responding to calls together and knew him as a good officer.

“He wasn’t afraid to crack a joke,” Etherton said. “He made you feel like part of his family, so when that happened, even though it happened to the police department, we were affected by it as well.”

He said the main focus of the fire department during that time was to help the police department in any way they could, adding that the police department would do the same for them.

Police officers and fire personnel work together often and both sides agree their bond is strong. Lowry said the police and fire associations work together and they see each other at the gym and even have dinner or breakfast together at the fire house on occasion.

Coeur d’Alene Firefighter Blaine Porter said the fire service differs from law enforcement in that people would often see police as “lone wolves” compared to the “small pack” that firefighters travel in.

He said they may respond to a call where there is one officer and five firefighters. If someone starts to get “belligerent” with that officer, they are right there backing that officer up.

“We watch their back and they do the same for us,” Porter said.

Chief Pat Riley, from Northern Lakes Fire District in Hayden, said he has several friends in the police and fire departments, and they’re among the best he’s ever seen.

“Oftentimes our relationships go beyond the job where we are there to help with somebody’s family or a need that they have,” Riley said. “I can’t be more proud of the relationship that we share, not only within the department ourselves and our local fire service in the area, but that with the law enforcement officers that we serve with too.”

Jim Lyon, Northern Lakes fire marshal, said the same kind of connection exists between those in fire service as seen in law enforcement.

Lyon said he had hip surgery earlier this year. After two days of snow, he woke up to the sound of his snow blower and three of the chiefs shoveling.

“You don’t ask. They just know that you can’t do it and they don’t want your spouse to have to do it - they are just there,” he said.

Etherton and Porter recalled a recent incident where one of the Coeur d’Alene firefighters had been severely injured in a motorcycle crash and ended up in a hospital in the Tri-Cities.

They took care of his dogs, his home, his family, and he was never without a representative from the Coeur d’Alene Fire Department while he was in the hospital.

“I think when somebody is experiencing tragedy, you see the best of what our brotherhood is, what our family is,” Etherton said. “I don’t think there is any limit to the little stuff that guys will do for you, but where we really shine is in those times of tragedy or real need.”

Penelope Cavallo was a volunteer first responder in California for 13 years and has been in support services with Northern Lakes since 2009. She works with all shifts during incidents and events, so she said hers is a slightly different perspective.

“It is such an honor to just be able to do whatever we can for people that are running into life-threatening situations rather than running away from them,” she said. “These guys and gals, their hearts would explode before they all stop.”

The fire in Bayview last summer was the largest incident she has responded to since entering support services. She said she’ll never forget the experience and the sense of family she felt during that time.

One of the things support services does is make sure the firefighters are fed and hydrated. They set up in the kitchen of the Community Center in Bayview during the fire and one day she decided to make breakfast burritos.

Several burritos in, firefighters started coming off the line in groups of six or seven. She said some of the guys came into the kitchen, dirty and tired, asking her, “What can we do to help?”

“Guys who had been out there in the mud and the smoke and the muck for I don’t know how long are coming up and asking, ‘What can we do to help you?’” she said with tears in her eyes. “To me, that’s just - wow. This is the caliber of the people that I have the honor and the pleasure to work with and for.”

Etherton said the firefighters share one-third of their lives together in 48-hour shifts, then off for four days, always with the same crew.

“If you can imagine siblings bickering - he’s touching me, he won’t stop bugging me - we see that too,” Etherton said. “You could be arguing with a guy one day, and the next you could be jumping out of an apparatus compartment to scare him and have a good time.”

The crews often stay together for years at a time, developing that close bond.

“Like every family, there could be disagreements within it, there can be some argumentative moments, but at the end of the day, you’re still family,” Porter said.

Firefighters and police officers agree on a lot, and it is no different when it comes to how they feel about someone “tainting” the badge.

“Every profession in every degree of industry is going to have people who don’t do the right thing, and no profession is exempt from that,” Riley said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s in my department, my region or across the country - when a firefighter does something that is unethical, illegal, and marks up the badge, it’s devastating. It takes another step and betrays the public’s trust that we work so diligently to earn.”

When a firefighter enters a home, he may need to go through every room to be sure the fire is out and the danger is over. The homeowner needs to trust that their possessions or anything of value will still be there.

Etherton said mothers have more often than not handed their babies to him or Porter without a second thought. But when one firefighter does something illegal or unethical, it jeopardizes that trust the community has for them.

For police officers, that trust is even more difficult to fight for because all some people see is a gun and a badge. The public doesn’t always distinguish between the officers who are good and the officers who are bad.

“We are very fortunate in our area that we are well-supported,” Haug said. “The majority of police officers I know are good, caring human beings who come to work to try and make a difference every day.”

Schmitz said nobody likes a bad cop less than a fellow officer does.

“I know there is a perception out there that we close ranks around each other, that we are here to protect the bad apples, but that is not the case,” he said. “When I hear of someone doing something to stain the badge, nobody’s more upset about it than me.”

Reneau said it’s difficult for them to take when someone violates that trust, because it isn’t just the trust in the community that is jeopardized - it is the trust in each other.


Information from: Coeur d’Alene Press, https://www.cdapress.com



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