Department header
Bewildering Stories

Emergency Equipment

by Gary Clifton

“There is no story so truly Bewildering as reality.”

Taking “Bewildering ” in its intended meaning of “unconventional,” we find that a real-life police story proves yet again the truth of Bewildering Stories’ motto.


When I first went to work for the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in 1965, all cars were equipped with the old wind-up, generator-clone sirens, wired to sound when the horn rim was pushed. The horn rim had a switch to flip it to “horn.”

All the cars had red grill lights, probably a throwback to Elliot Ness and the TV series The Untouchables. We had no air conditioning, and the cars were 400-horsepower tanks with standard transmissions.

The police cars evolved away from sirens. Each vehicle was equipped with a “Kojak”-style plug-in-the-dash twirling light. We had several instances where agents trying to pursue something, instead of leaving the light on their dash — which would blind the car’s occupants in dim light — they’d do like Kojak by rolling down the window, sticking the light on the roof, then drive 100 miles an hour.

The magnets failed in several cases, nearly strangling the driver. Somebody figured out to leave the light on the dashboard: they mounted a shield on the back of the light so the driver could see better. Kojak must have had a superior magnet.

All agents had take-home cars, but I knew a lot of city cops who carried one of those little dash lights in their personal vehicle for just the reason given in “Odd Man In.”

I’ve been in car chases in excess of 100 mph and, statistically speaking, the guy being chased can’t hear the siren if he’s at least 25 feet ahead. That’s why fire departments and some cops have those intersection blasters you hear.

* * *

We had two guys in Fort Worth who’d both played college football. One of them had spent two years on the practice squad of a National Football League team and, together, they were genuinely two tough customers.

They went out to arrest an outlaw biker and, being too tough to call for help, were greeted by a hail of gunfire. It missed, except for one round that passed through the ex-NFL guy’s trousers just below the crotch.

The assailant jumped fences, crawled through a sewer line and escaped. The two tough cops found the guy’s car, but not him. They were humiliated as hell and the subject of some expert in-house ribbing.

They had managed to put a “bird dog” — an electronic-eye gadget — under his car bumper, and they resumed the hunt. Around midnight, they were watching a house they thought might be home plate. They were in two separate cars, and one of them had driven to a nearby service station to gas up.

The cop’s partner called him on the radio that their shooter had come out of the house. The cop at the gas station drove off immediately. He not only ripped off the gas hose, he tore off the front plate of the pump. He put his Kojak light on the roof and was promptly almost strangled. Meanwhile, the suspect got away.

By use of the “bird dog” and with the good luck of finding an address in the house that the suspect had just left, the cops re-located the suspect’s car in far north Dallas, fifty miles from where they’d started. They were too late to grab him before he approached the front door, opened it with a key, and went inside. Thinking he was welcome in that house, this time they called for help.

Some of us and a load of Dallas cops showed up and tossed tear gas into the place. The grenades promptly caught fire, as tear-gas grenades are prone to do. The house had burned about halfway down before the Dallas Fire Department arrived.

Dynamic entry — as in kicking in doors and windows — showed no sign of the suspect. I got down there around 4:00 a.m. amidst a growing crowd of cops, but there was still no suspect.

We borrowed a Scott Air Pack from the firefighters and found the suspect buried in loose dirt in a crawl space under the house. He hadn’t suffocated, which remains a tribute to idiots around the world.

Around 6:00 a.m., a lady arrived who announced she was a night nurse at a nearby hospital and owner of the house — or former house. On seeing the suspect, she declared she had no idea who he was. We found out he had been burglarizing the place, using a key he’d gotten from a former housekeeper.

The nurse, standing in despair amidst a burglar, cops, firefighters, a guy with a Kojak-light scratch on his neck, and a totally destroyed home, became slightly more than upset. She was screaming profanity so fast she couldn’t get the words formed to come out of her mouth.

I nudged her aside and advised if she just wouldn’t drop dead on us, the government would pay all expenses. She had to live with relatives for a while, but she did come out of the experience with a nice new home.


Copyright © 2016 by Gary Clifton


Responses welcome!

date Copyright October 17, 2016 by Bewildering Stories

Home Page