A Few Thoughts on Practice in Adverse Conditions
Summer has arrived, and I haven’t written in this blog in awhile, but I’m hopefully getting back into my routine. Before starting back in with the series on Ammunition Basics, I thought I would take a side road, and share an experience from this past weekend that got me thinking about how prepared I may or may not be for unexpected conditions.
In order to be effective and prepared you can’t just confine yourself to how you draw or shoot your handgun. It must become an attitude you adopt in everything you do. Situations we run into in life are not clearly compartmentalized, and escalation is a potential whenever people are involved.
When we encounter the unexpected we can quickly become confused, angry, and unable to or poorly process ideas. We will respond from the baseline of what we have always done, or of how we have trained.
I have trained to be aware of what is around me, to anticipate and respond to perceived needs and threats. This weekend’s encounter emphasized that my training has not resulted in my being as situational ready as I would like to believe.
While this incident was minor with virtually no potential use of firearms, it did make me think. While a person can practice a new “skill,” until a real life situation is encountered, no one really knows how they may react
What follows demonstrates I didn’t have as good a read on the situation as I would have hoped, and the flagger I will be discussing, didn’t demonstrate a very good response either. I am sure we are both well meaning, diligently trained persons, but neither of us got a “gold star” on this one.
We normally don’t travel on major holiday weekends, but Friday the 4th of July our “ancient” hot water heater gave up the ghost. That meant a trip to Kalispell on Saturday, which is a little over a 100 mile drive each way.
My husband had driven on the ride over, and after completing a few stops “while we were there,” I started the drive back home in the early afternoon.
The first twenty or so miles of the highway between Kalispell and Libby after you leave the valley is a winding, hilly road, with only one lane in each direction and very little shoulder. The speed limit is 70 mph.
After just a few minutes on this section, I rounded a blind corner and about 30 yards ahead on a straight stretch of about 100 yards two rescue vehicles with flashing lights were completely blocking the right hand lane. They were responding to a single vehicle rollover accident, and the car had come to a rest upside down in the steep roadside ditch, and the oncoming lane also had an abrupt dropoff with virtually no shoulder. No choice but to stop as quickly and safely as possible.
No ambulance had arrived on the scene yet, and a Volunteer Fire Department flagger was talking on her radio while standing immediately behind the bright red fire rescue truck and highway patrol vehicle.
As I neared, I saw the SLOW side of the sign facing in my direction, and continued to decelerate. I started to move over to the left hand lane, preparing to pass very slowly around the rescue truck, shifting my eyes off the flagger to make sure the road ahead was clear.
When I looked back in the direction of the flagger, she was violently gesturing and waving the STOP at me. I can’t say when she had flipped the sign over, because my attention had been elsewhere. I immediately maneuvered back into the right hand lane, and came to a complete stop about 10-15 feet from her and to the rear of the patrol car. All this happened in seconds.
She was still talking into her radio, I presume to the other flagger down the road. She terminated the call, and came stomping over to the drivers side of our vehicle, obviously very angry. She gestured me to roll down my window, and I complied. Leaning in towards me, face red and contorted, shaking her sign at me she screamed “What the hell was that about?”
With the yelling and her sign close to my face, I rolled the window back up.
Infuriated even more, she whirled around and marched to the patrol vehicle, her sign dropped down at her side. The officer approached our vehicle, and motioned me to drive forward and stop behind the fire engine. By now my adrenalin was pumping and my voice was shaky and full of emotion and tears felt like they weren’t far off. I hate when that happens, but I managed to relay what had happened, and the patrolman told us the flagger was pretty jumpy because she was in a vulnerable situation. He waived us on our way without any further questioning.
But here’s my take on the escalation in this incident:
Ms. Volunteer Fire Department was obviously one of the first responders on the scene. I don’t know how much experience or training she’s had controlling traffic, but I suspect from the way she flagged traffic it’s not much. I base this on my own experience flagging with a road crew on a similar country highway. The 90+ degree heat of the day is intensified while standing on an asphalt roadway. Keeping a cool head is a must even under brutal conditions.
I have no way of knowing what she had done or had seen and experienced on that response incident, or even how many duties she was responsible for in addition to flagging. I can only imagine how charged her nerves were. From that platform, a minor infraction elicited an explosive reaction.
I am not saying I didn’t err, I did. If there were “do-overs” in real life, I now
wouldn’t take my eyes off the flagger, and would stay in my lane until I had positive “eye contact” with the flagger, and receive a definite, affirmative motion to stop or proceed. Anticipating what someone wants you to do, and taking action on that assumption, even with the best of intentions, is not appropriate.
While I rolled the window up reflexively in what felt at the time like reasonable self protection, chances are very slim she would have done more than just yell, or possibly pound on my truck in fury.
Finally, I realize my reflexes and ability to process are not as quick as they were years ago. While I am currently healthy, have excellent vision, am mentally alert and physically active I believe I need to assess my physical and mental condition regularly to make sure I am a responsible driver, and likewise when decide to own and carry a gun. I pray I know when I reach the time to hang up my spurs, so to speak.
Again, this was not in itself more than a wake up call. But the correlation to approaching a change in self defense practice is not a very big jump. My preparedness in an emergency/unexpected situation has been shown to need work.
In practice it’s usual to focus on gun related aspects, how to shoot, maintain grip, stance, sight picture, follow through and so forth, and also maintaining vigilant awareness of the surroundings.
But once adrenalin kicks in, decision making typically is compromised. It is good to know how I will react. Fight or Flight. Or, maybe cringe or cry.
Training and reacting under adverse or less than ideal conditions is rarely done by most people during self defense practice sessions. But I know many trainers have advocated training in less than perfect lighting, weather conditions, and even stress producing situations, and recommend it be made part of regular self defense exercises. They now have my attention.
Happy and Safe shooting – Peggy