EDITOR’S NOTE: RCMP Const. Frank Deschênes was killed at approximately 6 p.m. on Sept. 12, 2017, on the side of the Trans-Canada Highway in Memramcook. Deschênes, a member of Northwest Traffic Services-Amherst, had stopped to help two people in an SUV change their tire when a utility van collided with his police car and the SUV. Deschênes was pronounced deceased at the scene just after 6 p.m.
AMHERST, N.S. – Regardless of the uniform they wear, emergency services personnel share the same deep sense of loss when one of their own falls in the line of duty.
That’s something Mike Johnson knows all too well.
Johnson, a retired RCMP officer who now serves as Cumberland County’s emergency measures co-ordinator, still struggles to put his feelings into words about the profound impact the news he received Sept. 12, 2017 had on him. That’s the date his friend and former co-worker Const. Frank Deschênes died on a New Brunswick highway.
“Oh my, I don’t know if I want to go back there. It’s a really tough one. I don’t know of anything other than loss of a child that would have taken the wind out of my sails more than that. You know, to be talking and interacting with a living human being one minute and to try to fathom emotionally and mentally that it no longer is possible was beyond words. It really is beyond words how that happens. Any person who experiences that kind of a loss in their life has a hard time expressing the emotions that you have, they are just so rudimentary. It’s hard to explain. You’re devastated.
“There’s a period of time when you say, ‘It can’t be true, there’s been a mistake’, and then when the reality of it sinks in it’s just trying to deal with the grief, all of Frank’s friends and the grief that they feel. It was a huge loss to the RCMP, a huge loss to the community.”
Before retiring from the RCMP, Johnson worked closely with Deschênes in traffic services, but their relationship went beyond that.
“Besides working together, we both belonged to the same motorcycle club,” he explained, “so we saw each other on a regular basis, we saw each other socially between work and motorcycling.”
Johnson spoke highly of his former co-worker and friend, noting both his professionalism and his personal interactions with others.
“Frank was unique,” Johnson said with a quiet chuckle. “He had his perspective on things and he had no problem telling you exactly how he viewed things. You always knew where you stood with Frank.”
There was a lighter side to his friend, he added.
“He had a wonderful sense of humour, always looking for a quick wit line to poke fun, and I don’t know many members in the detachment during my time who weren’t on the receiving end of one of Frank’s quick lines.”
But it was professionally where Deschênes excelled, Johnson says.
“He was a hard worker, would go out and dig and truly believed in what he was doing, in helping people. Even when it might be stopping to issue a ticket to somebody, the educational aspect of what he was doing was paramount in his mind and in ensuring the safety of people,” he said.
“He was a great member of the RCMP, he was a fantastic police officer, he was involved in his community and he was a good friend to the people who knew him.”
Move over law
On the anniversary of his friend’s death, Johnson is urging motorists to obey the move-over law when they come upon an emergency services vehicle stopped on the side of the road.
“Always - not just at this time, but always. Frank’s passing came as a result of a simple process (not being followed) that people could use to ensure their safety, police officers’ safety and any highway worker, ambulance or fire truck or tow truck that’s on the side of the highway.
“That vehicle that you drive is travelling at two, three metres per second on the highway and the ability for the human being to react takes a good two seconds, so you’re travelling almost 40 metres before you’re able to input to steer out of the way or apply your brakes to slow down. That’s a long distance, so something as simple as just pulling over to give some space, some life space . . . this is something that should be done by the general public as a matter of normality, no different than the way we wear seatbelts today and didn’t many years ago.
“Move over, give some life space for those people who are trying to keep you safe.”