False Alarms Can Cause Actual Tragedies

Brian Wondra is missing a few days of his life. He remembers little about the events of Aug. 25, 1997, and has no recollection of the 12 days thereafter.
He remembers going out to his squad car before the start of his regular shift and noticing that the driver’s side rear tire was low on air. He remembers being told by a mechanic that it would have to be replaced.

His next vivid memory is waking up 12 days later in the intensive care unit of a hospital. Wondra was seriously injured in an accident with a semi-truck. He had been responding to a false burglar alarm.

To the best of his recollection, Wondra looks back on the incident that nearly cost him his life, and has some advice on how to keep what happened to him from befalling another law enforcement officer.

I was responding to a residential alarm as a patrol deputy for the Scott County (Minn.) Sheriff’s Office. It was around 5 p.m. — the peak of rush-hour traffic.

I was responding to the alarm with lights and siren on, which was the department’s policy. That all abruptly stopped when a semi-truck traveling at 50 mph smashed straight into the driver’s door of my patrol car.

I sustained injuries severe enough that I had to be airlifted from the accident scene by helicopter and taken to Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. My injuries were such that I was told I should not have survived the flight to the trauma center, and I had to be on a ventilator for a long period of time to help me breathe.

I found out later the alarm I was responding to was false. I was also told there were many false alarms to that residence. Had I known about the previous false alarms, I would have responded much differently. While I don’t blame the alarm company, I put at least part of the blame on the homeowner.

Tragic Crash Was Just the Beginning of Brushes With Death
The crash broke the first six ribs on my left side — front and back. The broken ribs collapsed one of my lungs; internal injuries and bleeding collapsed the other. My jawbone was broken from the chin almost to the ear. I had a head injury that would cause short-term memory loss, and many broken teeth.

I would not be here today if not for the courage and quick thinking of an ambulance paramedic, who was at the accident scene before the helicopter.

This paramedic performed a procedure he had never done before. He cut me open, and was able to insert a chest tube to help me breathe partially with one lung. Had he not done the procedure, I would have died before the helicopter arrived.

Even while in the hospital, I had two more brushes with death while I was in intensive care. The first was from blood poisoning resulting from one of the many blood transfusions I received, and the other was after contracting pneumonia while still in the ICU.

The doctors and my family had to make a decision whether or not to try to take me off the ventilator. Apparently, after a certain amount of time, I either had to start breathing on my own, or face a tracheotomy procedure.

I endured many months of occupational, speech and physical therapy which helped me learn to take care of myself again. After that, against the advice of my neurologist, I returned to work and became a detective and crime scene technician.

Unfortunately, the injuries I sustained exacerbated themselves to where I felt uncomfortable doing the job I have always loved. I left the sheriff’s department on a medical retirement.

I have a home traction unit (an apparatus that applies a therapeutic pulling force to the body) that I must use daily and I have an assortment of medication.

After fighting depression, I’ve again picked myself up, and started a private investigative business.

Calling the Police Isn’t the Solution for Every Problem
In today’s society, it is acceptable to have the police solve your problems for you. If someone’s kid is acting up, call the police. Instead of telling a neighbor to turn the music down because it’s too loud, call the police and let them handle it. That’s the same approach the public takes with burglar alarms.

They figure I’ll get this alarm, activate it and then it’s the police’s problem if it goes off. In the meantime, Joe Homeowner knows he has a motion detector alarm system, but he lets his cat roam around the house and constantly set the alarm off.

Of the literally thousands of alarm calls my former department handled while I was working patrol, only two I’m aware of were not false. Alarm calls were never taken too seriously and, since my unfortunate accident, alarm calls now get answered whenever a car may be free for a minute.

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