Protecting the Line

by Maryanne Pope

The warrior fights because he believes that he is fighting for something good, something positive, something that will improve the quality of the world around him. — Richard J. Machowicz, Unleashing the Warrior Within

This is the second in a series of ten articles. Visit Maryanne’s page on this blog for additional articles


Leonidas I of Sparta

As a writer, the chance of me getting into a gunfight, or any sort of physical fight, any time soon is slim. And yet I found myself recently at yet another seminar given by Brian Willis of Winning Mind Training. Brian is a former police officer who now trains emergency responders throughout North America. His seminar was entitled Harnessing the Winning Mind and Warrior Spirit and the intended audience was police officers, peace officers and military personnel.

I am, of course, none of these. But I was married to a warrior once, of the police officer variety, and in the thirteen years since his death, I’ve had to become a warrior of sorts myself – just not the weapon-carrying kind. But as Brian and many others have taught me,

it’s not your weapons that make you a warrior, it’s how you use your heart and mind to make the world a better place that determines whether or not you have a warrior spirit.

Interestingly, however, I was the one taking the most notes during the seminar – eighteen pages to be precise. For a writer, the nuggets of wisdom gleaned were pure gold. And although I’ve attended Brian’s seminars multiple times over the years, every time I hear him speak, I not only learn new things, I’m also reminded of ideas I’ve learned but have forgotten.

One new component that Brian had implemented into his seminar since I last heard him speak was a clip from the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund’s (JPMF) Put Yourself in Our Boots safety video: “The Story of John” part, which explains the circumstances that led to John’s fall.

Just to recap: John was searching the mezzanine level of a warehouse for a suspect when he stepped through a false ceiling and died of brain injuries. There was no safety railing in place to warn him – or anyone else – of the danger. The call turned out to be a false alarm; there was no intruder in the building.

After Brian showed the clip from the Boots video, he went on to explain to the group what the JPMF does in terms of raising public awareness about workplace safety issues facing emergency responders – and why our safety messages matter.

“We cannot measure what we prevent,” Brian said, matter-of-factly. “But let me tell you this, the JPMF is saving lives and preventing injuries.”

There I was in the back row, madly scribbling all this down. I’m the Board Chair of the JPMF – I’m supposed to know this stuff like the back of my hand. And I do. But hearing someone else articulate it, in such a succinct way, was very insightful.

For not only is Brian one of the JPMF’s strongest supporters, he also actually trained John in recruit class. Brian knew John had been trained properly how to safely clear buildings. Brian also knew that John had the warrior mindset: come what may during a shift, you make it home safely to your family. Winning is the only option. And since John clearly didn’t win on Sept 29th, 2000, this told those of us closest to him that something went very wrong that night. Something he couldn’t get up and walk away from – and therefore nor could we.

And then this quote appeared on the overhead screen in Brian’s seminar:

Spartans excuse without penalty the warrior who loses his helmet or breastplate in battle, but punish with loss of citizenship rights the man who discards his shield. A warrior carries a helmet and breastplate for his own protection – but his shield is for the protection of the whole line. — Steven Pressfield, Gates of Fire

Clunk…another truth hit home for the writer in the back row.

This is exactly what the police officers – John’s recruit classmates – who started the JPMF did: they chose to protect the line. To them, to have let John’s preventable death go unaddressed would have been the same as discarding their shields – because what happened to John could happen to any police officer.

Then it hit me: what is a police badge but a smaller version of a shield? And how did John’s recruit classmates initially start the JPMF? Within days of John’s death, they had memorial pins made with John’s badge and regimental number on them – and then sold the pins to colleagues, friends and family.

Today, the JPMF is a registered charity that educates the public about why and how people need to ensure their workplaces are safe for everyone, including emergency responders. In other words, the JPMF is rather like a modern-day shield that serves to help protect the line of police officers and other first responders so they make it home safely to their families after every shift.

And to achieve this goal, one of the services the JPMF provides is the Safety Presentation Program, whereby our speakers deliver presentations to Alberta companies, organizations, schools and conferences. Our workplace safety presentation is entitled, Officer Down; Transforming Loss into Safer Workplaces. This title is significant because the presentation uses John’s easily preventable death as a powerful example of the importance of a safe workplace, plus it shows how the safety initiatives of the JPMF transform tragedy into positive change.

The irony, of course, is that the JPMF wouldn’t be doing the public education work it is doing if John hadn’t died. Which begs the question: was John’s death part of some greater plan? Is there some truth to the old saying, “There’s a reason for everything”? Or is it up to us to assign a reason or find meaning in tragic events? I don’t know. But I do know, through personal experience, that there seems to be some truth in the belief that what we do with what happens to us is far more important than what happened to us in the first place.

M-Pope-BWBrian Willis was right: we don’t know how many lives we’ve saved through JPMF’s public education efforts. But we do know we wouldn’t have saved any if we chose to do nothing. And because of that, I am extremely grateful to the police officers who had the courage and wisdom to start the JPMF in the first place – and to all our JPMF warriors who keep the wheels turning on a daily basis ?

About the Author: Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the upcoming book, Barrier Removed; A Tough Love Guide to Achieving Your Dreams. Maryanne is the Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund and the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions Inc. Maryanne is the playwright of Saviour and also writes screenplays. She lives on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Read Maryanne’s other articles here.