“There’s a man on the roof of the building next door,” said the call from reception. “We think he wants to jump.”
So began the story of a cold day in February, during which the Oxford community was reminded of the calibre of people working at the Saïd Business School.
High up on that list is a man named Dan Trudgen.
Dan and I were standing in a hallway at Oxford Saïd outside some faculty offices. Professors were typing away behind glass windows, unaware of the drama of the story being told outside.
Dan is part of Saïd Business School’s maintenance team. He’s tall, with sharp features, often dressed in a uniform of cargo pants and a gray Oxford Saïd polo. He has an easy familiarity with the building that comes from years of work keeping it up.
“We were having a team meeting in the workshop when Amy called us,” he was saying. “There are no security guards; we’re the closest thing. So when we heard the news, we ran around Rewley Road, got to the corner, and looked up. And there he was.”
“What, on the roof?” I asked.
“He was there, looking at us,” Dan said. “We shouted for him to get back, but he just stared at me like a ghost. No emotion. So we ran up to the top of the building, but the door to the roof was locked. I didn’t know how he got up there!”
By then, Dan was alone. His colleague had dashed back down to call the police. Dan swiped his card on the roof door and emerged onto the roof.
“There he was, on the very corner of the building. There was no time for training or anything. So I started walking across, ever so slowly. Footstep. Footstep. In my head, I’m going ‘Don’t jump. Don’t jump.’
“He saw [my radio], and told me to chuck [it] to the ground. So I did. Just to gain some trust. I said, ‘Hi. I’m Dan.’ He introduced himself, and we finally started talking. He worked in town for a charity, and he just got sacked. The boss decided to say that he didn’t have any friends, any family, and that he wasn’t hitting targets. And apparently, this man got emotional and threw his boss’s iPad in the river.
“As a tactic, I stayed in the middle of the roof and sat on the floor, so it looked like I’m not going anywhere. And he came over [away from the corner of the roof], very, very slowly. It was me and him alone for about fifteen minutes, just talking.
“When the police got there,” Dan continued, “he saw uniforms, and he went straight off back to the corner. The police were talking him for two hours—“
“Wait,” I interrupted. “Where did you go?”
“I was still there! The guy in charge of the police said that because I had bonded with him, it would be best if I stayed there. It was freezing, though, because it was February. It had rained the day before, and I was soaked everywhere.
“So yeah, the police were talking to him with a negotiator. The deal was, if they could get his friend on the phone, he would think about coming down. But they did one better. They found his friend in Oxford, brought him to the building, and brought him up to the roof. And because of that, he eventually got down. The whole thing took about two and a half hours. He went to a psychiatric ward after that.”
“Holy crap, you saved his life!” I said.
“Well, I don’t know…” Dan demurred.
“Of course there are lots of people involved with situations like this,” I said, “but just imagine what would have happened if you hadn’t been there…”
Dan nodded. “Those first fifteen minutes, yeah, he needed someone to talk to. Like we said, he had no friends, no family, and he just got sacked, so he felt quite alone.” Dan shook his head. “This whole thing was a shock.”
“That must have been pretty rough for you,” I said.
“Yeah… I do maintenance! I’m not a hostage negotiator,” Dan laughed. “That night at home, afterwards, I was a bit shaken up. I couldn’t believe that had just happened. It was weird, you know? You didn’t really have time to prepare for it. You’re just thrown in.”
“Did you come to work the next day?”
“I did, actually. They said I could’ve left early, but I knew that if I went home, it would just be in my head, playing up… so I stayed at work. It took a while to deal with it. It was a little bit surreal.”
I spoke with Dan weeks ago now, and his story has been ricocheting through my mind since. I’ve delayed writing this blog, actually, because I didn’t know how to tell this story without giving short shrift to everything else Dan does. And this story, I hope you agree, needed to be told. We’ll reconnect next time with more detail on the day-to-day work of Dan and the maintenance team at Oxford Saïd.Back to top of article