SWAT officers have a lot to think about on any given call. Hours of training. Details of the threat they are about to encounter, from criminal history to site layout and more. One thing Scott Godfrey from the Charlottesville Police Department (CPD) doesn’t have to think about at all is the safety of him and his team. That is because he knows that Joe Phillips from the Charlottesville Fire Department (CFD) has it covered. Joe and Scott have been there for each other for fifteen years, coming up through the ranks of the CFD and CPD at the same time and building an unbreakable bond of brotherhood that typifies the kind of collaboration that makes the Charlottesville Police Department and Charlottesville Fire Department invaluable partners for each other and for the city as a whole.
“A lot of times, police and fire don’t work hand in hand,” Scott said, “because we have separate things to do, but the relationship I have with Joe makes us teammates and brothers both on and outside of the job. Whenever we have a health-related issue, he is my first call, period. And we have had instances where I truly don’t know what would have happened if he wasn’t there. I am thankful every single day for this guy.”
The two, who both grew up in Charlottesville yet didn’t know each other before joining their respective departments, have built their bond over countless calls as well as years of monthly training sessions that often feature live scenarios that allow them to continually hone their respective skills and continue an ever-evolving learning process. “These sessions are critical to both our CPD team and for Joe and his medic team,” Scott said. “It allows us to talk about things we might encounter on scenes, and we set up various role play scenarios where they are able to evaluate our process of taking care of downed citizens or officers to make sure we are doing things that will create the best possible outcomes.”
The open lines of communication between the two are key to their partnership, Scott said. “We have that bond and professionalism between us where it doesn’t matter what rank you are. He is fire and I am police and we are working toward that common goal of keeping people safe no matter what needs to be done. There is no critique that is too tough. We learn from it and roll with things together.”
The monthly trainings with the CPD SWAT team and Joe and his team of medics allow these partners to talk about things they might encounter on scenes and to set up scenarios where officers are asked to employ a variety of tactics including administering tourniquets under the watchful eye of Joe and his team. “We do real time, simultaneous scenario-based training,” Scott said, “and when I set it up, I don’t tell our operators exactly what they are going to encounter. They have to adjust on the fly and adapt to overcoming situations.”
“Many times,” Joe said, “I don’t go into the training planning to teach one certain thing. I am able to witness things in the spur of the moment, just like you would out on a call, and we can talk over a given scenario and gain a fuller understanding of what we can do for each other.
In our trainings,” he said, “we go over things and it is normally a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing. I see something within a certain scenario, and I realize, OK, this is what we need to do. I don’t necessarily go in planning to teach. What we do is incorporate our experience and knowledge into what they are learning as tactical officers and determine what the next step is medically, and what we can do for each other.”
The many years together have brought a level of comfort that is incredibly important to Scott. “I never have to worry about Joe, because he knows what I am thinking in my head almost before I am even thinking it,” he said. “After all these years together, he knows exactly how we function and what we need, and that is incalculable. “
The experience of working with the SWAT team, Joe said, has changed the way he thinks and works. “You are talking about people at the very top of their game when it comes to policing. It has changed me and inspired me to take additional classes on a variety of topics. I have had a chance to have discussion with trauma surgeons at UVA about how to make sure patients are best prepared for success when they come into the ER.”
Once onsite at their callouts, it is both what they know, and what they know the other knows, that becomes important. “He is the one guy I know that I need,” says Scott. “I really appreciate his perspective. His mindset is different than mine. I have so many different moving parts in the moment, but I can always rely on Joe to make sure my guys are getting through things safely.”
The trainings and field work have built a level of trust that is at the heart of all they do. “We have been through hard times together, trials together, but all of that has developed a bond that is truly unbreakable.”