Local Heroes: Cool and Collected in the Face of Danger

When Charlotte Petersen was entertaining friends at her apartment in San Francisco 2002, she had no idea that the evening would soon be interrupted by the noise of a police siren, followed by a huge “Boom!”

On June 12, 2002, two police cars responding to a domestic violence call collided with one another at 17th and Dolores streets. The police cars had just turned on their sirens when they crashed into each other. One flipped over and was impaled by a light pole. The other ran into a wall before bouncing off it.

Charlotte ran down the stairs yelling “Call 911!” and saw a huge amount of smoke once she stepped out the door. Once it had cleared a little, she saw two officers getting up and two police cars – one flipped upside down and the other a few feet away from the wall. There were pieces of metal and glass on the street, which was also covered in oil. Once she had made sure the first two officers weren’t fatally wounded, Charlotte checked the car that had been impaled by the light pole. In it was a heavily bleeding cop. She could tell that he was stuck in the car. There was another cop lying on the street close to the car who wasn’t moving. She checked his breathing, which was shallow, and his pulse, which was all over the place. Part of his skull was smashed. By then, several police units had arrived. She asked two officers to hold him while she checked if there was anything preventing him from breathing correctly. There was: a little piece of metal was stuck in his back. Charlotte pulled out the piece of metal. Then an ambulance arrived, and the man was rushed to the hospital.

Later, she found out that the officer stuck in the cars was Jon C. Cook and that he had died later in a hospital. The other officer was Nick Ferrando, who woke up from a coma four months later after having had surgery to remove pieces of his smashed skull.

Looking back on it, Charlotte said that she should have been more careful. If she had been injured, she would have been another injured person to look after. Luckily, she received only a few cuts from the glass all over the ground. She doesn’t consider herself to be a hero because she only did what she had done for four years in her job as an emergency medical technician (EMT). One of the things she learned training as an EMT was how to remain calm and not give in to fear and panic. It helped her keep her emotions in check and check on the officers.

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