Selfish Altruism – Part 2

One of the traits that makes a police officer great – a bedrock requirement for effective police work  in the community – is having concern for others. Last week Ken Fischer told how his Lakewood Police career led to helping people with tree problems, and how good it felt to help people in need of his skills. On and off the job, the idea of doing good for its own sake motivates greatness. But if it feels so good to do good, is it selfish to be motivated by that reward?  

By Ken Fischer

Our fair city frequently notes and “red tags” trees which have to come down, both public and private. A ninety-eight year-old senior who lived with her daughter/care provider had been served a notice by the city to remove eight fairly large elms on her property. She had lived most of her life adjacent to O’Kane park and probably babysat some of their children.

Something was fishy. Her trees were progressively dying as they had hit their natural end point. She had not been contacted over the past years and she was putting aside what funds she could to address the removal. She had called a tree service and the estimate was beyond her means: four to five thousand dollars.

“Ironically” a complaint was received regarding her trees. City foresters had no choice but to give her 30 days to act as the dry trees were a hazard.

My technician, who coordinated my police assignments but wasn’t really supposed to be connecting me with off-duty Good Samaritanship, asked me about tree people I may know who could help her at a lower cost. She had about a thousand dollars. I would check into it.

A visit to her home was quite pleasant. A sweet woman who had a legion of life experiences and her senior-age daughter who had a better memory to fill in some of the blanks.

I knew no one who could tackle the job for less than about three thousand. After mulling it over, I recounted Pop’s approach to altruistic actions, as well as an old axiom: God hates a coward.

I would work what I could of the open trees and attempt to get one of my climber friends to top several others. We got a deal for the slash cost at Jeffco and the usable saw timber would begin my firewood supply as it was the off season and I would be gathering wood for fall.

I was pleased that my wife and son joined in as well as several department volunteers including a friend/boss who worked her ass off.

Luckily, a climber friend had some free time and joined me one afternoon. He went up top and I worked the ground, lowering six foot sections by rope. Soon a city truck arrived and it was the forester. He advised that he had received an “inquiry” about our operation. I clarified. More complaint than inquiry. He needed to see a license to cut, specifically to climb. I did not have a climber’s license but my friend did and it passed muster.

The city forester was a good guy and just doing his job but I left him with some feedback for the complainant, who was probably the tree service looking for the job. The exact verbiage I used included “street talk” not appropriate for common usage.

We finished the job within the month and removed four cords of usable wood. The sweet little woman, who was homebound, wanted to come out and thank me. She wore a deep blue dress with a broad white lace collar (probably from the thirties). The Lord had been good to me in both my work efforts and certainly in life. No Charge.

The women wanted to make dinner for my family and it would be at their small home.

We agreed. I was looking forward to more stories of early Lakewood and what experiences she could recall and share. We lose greatly when good stories are not retained and retold.

Just prior to our July dinner date, her daughter called to advise that her mother had passed. She advised that her mother was very grateful for our work and it took a worry off her mind. Her mother had enjoyed watching me work the timber. I shared that it was my pleasure. . . strong back, weak mind. She laughed.

A very badly kept secret is that the giver also receives a benefit from helping those less fortunate. Frequently proud folks would go speechless after being assisted by others. This is one of the rewards – the selfish part of the altruistic spirit – the quiet glow that comes from doing good.

The other poignant experience not often shared by many is being a part of an anonymous helping hand. Most people step up, ante up and move on with no expectation of praise.

A little known fact relates to generous people sharing with people in trouble.

A good friend suffered basically a fatal heart attack after leaving work. Paramedics kept him alive and frequent jolts kept his badly damaged heart barely functioning. I recall the honesty of the trauma doctor, advising that my friend had lost two thirds of heart function and if he survived, he would be in a nursing home. A transplant was the remaining option if he lived long enough.

The tough reality humbled our department. The mood was somber. I got a call from a former partner working in another city. His employer, a large family owned and operated company in a major industry, had heard the news. They wanted to help. I was advised that the company would make both of their medically equipped corporate planes available and one of three pilots would be on call starting now. They needed only one hour’s notice and would fly the organ to Denver for our brother officer wherever. Wow.

One condition: anonymity. No press. No recognition.

This generous offer would not be necessary as fortunately a donor heart, a close match, became available and my friend is still thriving today over 30 years later.

Subsequently, as a small tribute, I switched over to their product for a time. It was not too great a sacrifice, but I held it long enough to feel that my appreciation had been registered by the Universe. Then, with a clear conscience and a satisfied mind, I eventually went back to Budweiser.

Part 1 was last week. Ken Fischer holds a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Iowa and was involved in organizing Iowa’s first Law Enforcement Training Academy. He was on the SWAT Team in the Lakewood Police Department, and retired as a Senior Sergeant. A longtime resident of Southern Gables, he is an experienced woodsman and now runs a firewood business. 

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