“Our first responders are not our walking wounded; they are our heroes with broken hearts.”
I spoke those words to reportedly thousands of people who attended the courthouse vigil.
Since then, a few people have asked me what the difference is between the two, and why that difference meant so much to me?
To explain that, I start with my definition of who I believe our first responders were during this horrific event.
We use the term “Boots on the Ground” in law enforcement to mean our “First Responders”, those who actually do the work (as compared to people like me who mostly sit behind a desk).
It is also an expression of honor and respect.
It is usually not meant to be taken literally, but on Jan. 9, 2018, it was all of the above.
Our “Boots on the Ground” are usually firefighters and law enforcement officers. This time they were: firefighters, law enforcement officers, staff from the Office of Emergency Services, service provides, and the media.
On Jan. 9, and the days that followed, the above mentioned “Boots” all stood together, shoulder to shoulder, in the dangerous debris, focused on saving our lives and our property.
Very early on Tuesday morning, shortly after I heard the shocking and gut-wrenching sound of rocks roaring down my canyon, I turned on the TV and saw image after image of firefighters risking their lives to save others, and John Palmentari moving through the mud trying to explain the unexplainable.
Seeing the debris John was standing in, I felt compelled to text him. “Put on some boots!”
When he could, John texted me back that he had boots on. That morning I realized John and his camera crew, along with Tracy, Joe, CJ and Beth, and their camera crews, were indeed also our “Boots on the Ground.”
When a touch of daylight finally arrived, I walked up my street and saw images that were not just unfamiliar and disconcerting, but also terrifying. As I continued my climb up the road, and throughout that day, trucks and cars drove past me bearing the names of their responsibility: law enforcement, fire, various emergency vehicles, service providers and the media.
When I walked around, I listened to Catherine Remak on the radio and read Noozhawk reports on my phone.
When home, I had the TV on continuously and read every incoming report.
This was my town and it appeared to be barely breathing.
The TV, radio, and reports became my, and thousands of other’s lifeline...What’s going on out there?” “Was the emergency over?” “Did the creeks stop rising?” “When will the rain come back? “Is anyone injured”... "Did anyone die?”
Eventually all those questions were answered and they were answered by the “Boots on the Ground.”
Since then I’ve seen many of those “Boots.” I tried to make eye contact with all of them. When possible I shook their hands. When appropriate, I held them in my arms.
In my role as a prosecutor for over 27 years I have looked into the eyes of too many victims of rape and assault, too many families whose loved ones were murdered — sadly, I know the look of the “Walking Wounded,” and the “Boots” I’ve seen this week, don’t have that look.
Our “Boots” look exhausted, sad, and solemn, but they are also enlightened. Therefore, many of them are seeking the mental health services they need through places like Hospice of Santa Barbara.
The “Boots” who kept us safe and informed, with little to no regard for their own personal safety, are in fact our heroes, and in fact have broken hearts. But their broken hearts will heal, because we will be there for them, just like they were for us.
— Joyce Dudley is district attorney of Santa Barbara County. The opinions expressed are her own.