By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
Felicia Bates met her future husband when he escorted her to the bank with the day’s deposit from the restaurant where she worked. She says he made her feel completely safe and secure.
That went on for a while before he asked her out. Eventually, he proposed marriage, and she said “yes.” The couple has been married since 2005, and Felicia says that her husband still makes her feel safe and secure.
The man in question is Lt. Gene Bates. Since the time they were married, Bates has worked his way up through the ranks of the Cullman Police Department, and is now assigned to Investigations.
His wife says that she knew the hazards of his job when she married him. “You know it’s a dangerous job going into it, but I also know that he is smart and capable of thinking on his feet,” she said candidly. “I feel secure in the knowledge that he is highly trained and that he is good at his job.”
Felicia now works full time at the Vinemont Post Office. The couple has two children, seven-year-old Caitlin and a son, Braxton, who is 16 months old. Sometimes things crop up with families when dad is on duty…
When Felicia was in labor with Caitlin, she was on the east side of the county and her husband was on the west side. Her water broke and she was afraid to try to drive to the hospital alone. “I was thinking that he might be too late in getting here,” she laughed. “In fact, he did get there in time, but we joked about the possibility of him having to deliver his own child.”
“That’s one of the things that police wives learn early on,” said Lt. Bates. “We don’t work a nine-to-five job. Our spouses have to understand and be flexible.”
Over the years there have been a lot of close calls, but some stand out more vividly in her memory.
One of the worst times was when her husband was called out as a member of the dive team. “It was freezing that night,” she said. “A woman believed to be in a diabetic coma had gone off the road and into the lake. He was the only one left who had a dry wetsuit, so he had to go in the water. It was worse because it was dark, but the cold made it even harder,” she said. “I was terrified. I knew that he couldn’t see under the water, and the fact that the car was going fast just made it cover more area past the dock, so when they went down, they had to go out further.”
Most of us don’t think about people like Bates, or Fire and Rescue workers and ambulance drivers who have to get out in the worst weather, running toward fires and situations that others are running away from.
“I appreciate the fact that Felicia understands my job,” Lt. Bates said. “It makes it easier for me because she is so supportive.”
Felicia has a scanner, although she is aware that listening to it probably makes it all the much worse…but it’s hard for a policeman’s wife not to be concerned about what her husband might be facing.
“Once I was at home listening to the scanner and I hear his voice come over, sounding distressed,” she said. “He was doing extra detail and saw someone on the parking deck.”
She could hear the tussling. Bates was attempting to key his microphone. “Quit resisting!” she could hear him saying repeatedly.
“I could hear the guy cussing and then I could hear sirens” she said, relieved that backup was on the way. The scuffling continued for another few minutes, but finally she heard his voice, loud and clear. Backup had arrived — he was safe!
“As soon as I was able, I called her to let her know that everything was okay,” he said. “I guess it’s harder with her sitting at home and hearing all this. Being there, I knew that the guys I work with had my back. They are a great group of officers and we rely on each other every day. I have the utmost confidence in them.”
Perhaps the worst times of all were when he was in the Narcotics Division. “I remember that he always took extra care. He even had me carry a gun, and I still do, in addition to going to target practice. I guess it’s always in the back of my mind that something could happen to him,” she said candidly. “But I know that he is very fast on his feet — he is always thinking.”
Many people in high stress situations and jobs tend to bottle up that tension. For the Bates, it has become one of their coping mechanisms to talk things out. “I know when something is bothering him,” she said. “We talk it out. I always tell him that we can get through anything if we can talk about it.”
Although she doesn’t hear the names, she knows the situations, and she listens when he needs to vent. She tries her best to make their home his “soft place to fall.”
“I try to make it easy on him to talk out his stress,” she said.
Last summer, they took a family vacation to Disney World and met up with a co-worker from the police department. It was good for them to get away. They didn’t talk work, but they did know that each of them understood the pressure that they live with on a daily basis. “We had a lot of fun, it was good for all of us,” she smiled.
The fact that her husband wears a gun to work every day, and has worn Kevlar vest, is a fact of life for wives like Felicia Bates. “What keeps my sanity is that he has been trained so well and that he is always conscious of what is going on around him.”
“I probably don’t tell her enough, but it’s because of her understanding and support that I can do my job,” said Lt. Bates. “I know that there is a lot of uncertainty in what I do — from the irregular hours to the danger — but she doesn’t complain. And she is a wonderful wife and mother. When I have to leave home for extended periods of time, as in the aftermath of the April 27 tornadoes, I know that she is capable of taking care of herself and our children. That frees my mind so that I can do my job.”