By Tim Alford
“In My Blood”
Throughout the day on Wednesday, the temperature had dropped dramatically and it had begun to snow. Public Safety Officer Jay McCann came to pick me up at Phi Delta Theta so I could ride along with him on his night shift. “How’s it going man?” he said as I got into the car.
McCann was born in Lubbock, Texas and went to Cooper High School. He said he had the typical “Friday Night Lights” kind of high school life being the captain of the football team in west Texas. His dad was a minister and a career paramedic, which is where he got his inspiration.
“Because of Dad’s involvement with emergency services, I have always had first responder in my blood,” he said. “The first call I ever went on was with my dad. I was 10 years old.”
They responded to an automobile accident where there were 12 victims and three fatalities. “It’s just something…that it’s for some people…it’s not for some people,” he said.
We drove down by Selby Stadium as part of the first rounds to physically look around the campus. McCann has been with Ohio Wesleyan for eight years and in law enforcement and security for 18 years.
“I came across information about the 2008 fire on South Franklin Street,” I said. “From what I read, it sounds like it was a pretty intense situation.”
“Ya, we’ll go over there real quick and I’ll show you where it happened,” he said.
“Except by the Grace of God, There go I”
“It’s a night I will never forget,” he said. “On average, there are seven calls in your career as a first responder, EMS, fire or law enforcement, that usually change your life or there’s something that sticks with you. That’s going to be one of my seven calls.”
When the Fire Department dropped tones for a potential working fire at 1:30 a.m. on the morning of Sept. 28, 2008, McCann was right across the street from the Fire Department and around the corner from where the fire was occurring at 126 S. Franklin St. He decided to go over and check it out because he said sometimes people in that building will call things in that are really not a huge deal.
We turned onto South Franklin Street and he said when he turned the corner on that night, there were people lying in the street and people running from the building. When he pulled up to the building, the large windows were filled with “thick, black smoke.” He could hear people screaming “We’re trapped! We’re trapped!”
When he walked up to the building, he said he just started yelling for people to come to his voice. McCann rescued three people before the fire department got to the scene.
“All in all that night, we had 14 rescues,” he said. “There were no fatalities.”
He said it was probably one of the most coordinated scenes he has been a part of, with himself from the university, the Police Department, five different Fire Departments, and Delaware County EMS.
“You had all of these first responders, and we all came together as one team and we did our jobs,” he said. “It was pretty amazing.”
McCann and the officers he worked with on that night received the Public Safety Hero Award from the Delaware County Chapter of the American Red Cross. He said they have “a bond that will never be broken.” McCann’s parents were able to be there to see him receive the award and he said it was a second generation thing because his dad had been recognized for a saving a man’s life at a Texas Tech baseball game who was suffering from a heart attack.
“I can’t walk away from somebody hurting or somebody in need of help,” he said. “It’s simply because ‘except by the grace of God, there go I.’ At any given moment, I may need that help, or my kids may need that help, or my wife may need that help, or my friends may need that help.”
Walking on Glass
A few weeks earlier, sophomore Eilee Foley recalled one evening she had after Thanksgiving. She was walking back to campus from downtown Delaware and made the unfortunate mistake of taking her shoes off.
“I walked on glass with no shoes on,” she said. “The feet I guess specifically bleed a lot, so I couldn’t really walk back.” Her feet were bleeding onto the sidewalk, so Foley had no choice at this point but to have a friend try to carry her back.
A bicyclist happened to be coming by, and it turned out to be McCann. He stopped immediately to see if Foley was okay.
“I’m fine. Like just a few Band-Aids and I will be okay,” she said.
“No, no. I insist. Please let me come help you,” he said.
After calling Public Safety to bring a car to where Foley was, McCann cleaned and bandaged her feet up and gave her a ride back.
“He went out of his way to make sure I was fine when I clearly could’ve just gone back and taken care of myself,” she said.
“Coming to Work is Enjoyment”
“Dealing with the intoxicated person?” he said. “Sometimes it can be absolutely comical, sometimes it can be a gigantic pain in the butt, sometimes it can be very dangerous, sometimes it can be very dangerous for the person intoxicated.”
We turned in the parking lot by Stuyvesant Hall, continuing the first rounds. He said dealing with intoxicated people can get frustrating, but he has a different filter because he has a 12-year-old son that is severely autistic and non verbal.
“I will tell you,” McCann said laughing, “there’s not too many things that I cannot filter based on the amount of patience I have had to learn as a father and being a parent of an autistic child.”
He said that his life at home can be somewhat stressful living with a child who is autistic.
“So, strangely enough, I come to work to de-stress,” he said. “To be honest with you, work is kind of my getaway. For me, coming to work is enjoyment, it’s not really work.”
He said it can get frustrating when it’s the same people getting in trouble every weekend and there is the repetitive person who can’t handle alcohol. We turned around the corner of the Hill over by Sigma Chi. He commented on how much he dislikes it when the residents of Sigma Chi leave their door open at night as we passed by.
The day before, I talked to Bob Wood, the Director of Public Safety. He said his view on Public Safety is they are not there just as the bad guys to catch students doing things wrong, but to also help and guide students. He said that there are officers that tend to be a little bit more lenient and others that tend to be more enforcement oriented. The officers that are more enforcement oriented tend not to do as well as those who approach students in more of a parental way.
“Under the classification of more lenient or parental to more ‘I’m going to write you up,’ where would you classify Officer McCann?” I asked.
“On the far side of lenient,” Wood laughed. “And I think of him like that, but you know I’ve been with him where he’s like no nonsense. That’s a violation. You know better than that, give me your ID. He tries to be fair…and when you get a point where you could go this way or that way, he tends to go ‘let’s give somebody a break’ and ‘let’s help somebody’ as opposed to writing somebody up.”
McCann drove the car down Oak Hill Avenue toward Stuyvesant. He said students’ perception of Public Safety tends to change over the years in that many freshmen and sophomores believe Public Safety is just out to get them. Juniors and seniors, on the other hand, come to the realization that someone else was fed up with their behavior so they called Public Safety.
Generally, Public Safety is called with a complaint and they are asked to investigate it. Part of their responsibility is to then document who was responsible. He said that they do use “the magic word” discretion and good common judgment to decide whether students need to be written up or given a ticket for certain actions.
We turned into Welch Hall to go in and lock up the fitness center. Seniors Chelsea Dipman and Sophia Rose were in the fitness center finishing their workout. “How are we doing?” he said to them as began shutting off the machines.
“The 800 Pound Gorilla”
We drove out by Sanborn Hall and Austin Manor, where McCann pointed out a parking lot behind Sanborn that is owned by the university but rarely gets used. He said community gardens are usually put in the area. It’s not advertised as an available parking lot because a lot of people just think its “creepy and weird” back in that area of campus.
I asked what he thought has changed about the university over the years.
He said as far as the academic, facilities and fiscal aspects of the university, he thinks this administration has a really solid grasp on it. He said sometimes it can be difficult for students and staff members though.
“We sometimes feel left out of that scenario simply because it’s sometimes not things that we’re a part of,” he said. “I mean they try to include us and they really do and we’re always well informed. But as far as the business academia part of university, I think they’re doing a great job and they’re on the right track, but I just think sometimes staff feel like we’re left out of that a little bit because we kind of deal in a different way as far as student life goes.”
As far as the social scene, he said he sees things where he would like to see improvements and he hears from students all of the time where they would like to see improvement.
We made our way over to Park Avenue, passing many of the houses students live in off campus.
“There aren’t that many off-campus parties going on anymore,” I said.
“No,” he said. “Trust me, I have seen a huge down tick.”
He said there is really no place for anybody to go. We drove down to Sturgis Hall and Slocum Hall and passed Elliot Hall, checking for anything out of place on the academic side of campus.
“Do you think that not having as much off-campus housing has hurt a little bit of the social life?” I asked.
“Oh without a doubt, without a doubt,” he said. “I mean, I’m not really sure what students are doing…It’s been a very strange year.”
He said he has talked to students from every culture, concept, clique, social group, “you name it,” and 80 percent of them say they want to live off-campus their junior and senior year.
The number one reason students say they want to living off-campus is so they have the opportunity to live independently.
“It’s not necessarily just to hold parties,” he said. “They would just like the opportunity to rent and start learning the behaviors of being independent. And I personally think that’s healthy.”
Since OWU is going to be a 100 percent residential campus, McCann thinks there is only one solution, which he calls the “800 pound gorilla” in the room that nobody wants to talk about.
This gorilla is an on-campus club. He said if he had his way, the club would be in Pfeiffer Natatorium since the pool has been shut down and only a few classes held in the building.
The location of the natatorium would provide students with direct access from the Jay Walk and there are no houses nearby, so the loud music would not be a problem.
“It’s a no brainer as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “But, I gotta find somebody with money to listen to me.”
We turned into Smith Hall and walked into the Public Safety office.
The first part of the night shift was over.
“What I really love about this job is on Mother’s Day, when I’ll have students walk up to me and go ‘Jay, you gotta meet my parents,’” he said. “Or, ‘Jay, if it hadn’t been for you that night,’ or, ‘You made an impact,’ or, they come back and go, ‘One of the best things I remember was that night we went and we talked.’ That’s what makes this job cool.”