By ROBERT JUMPER
One Feather Editor
Every weekday, I try to do a little walking. I try to do some exercise, if for no other reason than I don’t want to have to lie when the doctor asks me during routine checkups (which, as I get older, come more frequently). I should get a discount on the next one, since this is the second commentary that I have given him a mention. Free advertising.
It is rare on my daily walks to have a quiet, peaceful stroll with only the sounds of nature. From my office to the end of the Oconaluftee Island Park near the intersection of US Hwy 19 and Hwy 441, there are few noise-free areas. Sounds of traffic, construction (the replacement of the water and sewer mains are in full swing on Acquoni Road), and playful screams and laughter coming from the Island Park are common sounds on the walk. Also common are the sounds of sirens and the sights of blue and red flashing lights.
Without fail, at least one time during the walk I will see a fire truck rolling to some unknown emergency. It could be a house, business, or brush fire. After all, when you see the “big red truck” speeding by, the first thing one assumes is that something is on fire. And that is one important role the fire department plays. But that is not all they do. Fire vehicles roll on most types of emergencies. They are called out when a traffic accident threatens the public by starting a fire or spilling a substance, like gasoline. They get called when someone is trapped in some way. They get called out when someone is having a medical emergency. They get called out for me and you. And it can happen at any time of day or night. So, they must be prepared for us day or night. That includes when all of us have gone to bed or during the day during our walking exercise breaks. They are always watching over us.
The Cherokee Indian Hospital Emergency Room, Emergency First Responders, Emergency Medical Services are all in a similar boat. They never know when there will be an overdose, a heart failure, a gunshot, a tumble down the stairs, or a car crash will sound the alarm for them to get their gear and make their way to whatever hurt may be ahead of them. I have spoken to several of these men and women, who are typically some of the first professional caregivers during an emergency. If there is any doubt in anyone’s mind that being an emergency responder is a stressful job, you should ask one of the folks in the business yourself. Many times, these men and women are working on people who are barely hanging on to life. Some of those that I have spoken to said that the things they have seen at some horrific traffic accidents haunt them long after the accidents are over. It is the profession they have chosen, to take care of and watch over us.
The Cherokee Indian Police Department, Alcohol Law Enforcement, EBCI Natural Resources Officers, Tribal Prosecutor’s Office, and Medical Examiner all are watchers as well. With the moniker “To Protect and Serve”, our officers face the unknown every day of their careers. From wellness checks to active shooters, they are charged with keeping the peace. Even something that seems innocuous, like directing vehicle traffic in a congested area or helping a motorist change a flat tire, could quickly turn into a life and death situation. They must inject themselves into very personal situations with community members and visitors alike; domestic violence, public drunkenness, robberies, traffic accidents, drug raids, and a bunch of other situations where police are needed to intercede on our behalf. Day in and day out, a police officer is patrolling and engaging folks, sometimes in a fun, positive way, others in a not-so-fun confrontation. And many of these officers may end a work shift, only to be called back for an emergency.
The ”on-call” officers include the Tribal Prosecutor and Medical Examiner, even though neither office is in the workforce of the police department. In many situations, the prosecutor and “M.E.” will be called in when certain crimes are committed and when that is necessary, it doesn’t matter what time of day it is. Both may be required to examine, document, and direct at the scene of a crime, many times violent crime. Both might attend post-mortem “on-scene” examinations and autopsies and be needed for suspect interrogations and investigations. The Tribal Prosecutor assists in drafting search warrants, charging decisions, jurisdictional guidance, preparing victims for court in jobs that routinely go well beyond a “9 to 5” schedule. These officers and offices also stand watch over us.
Years ago, I went with a few friends to one of the restaurants downtown (Cherokee) for lunch. While we were eating, we began to hear the sirens. As each car or truck went screaming by-police cars, ambulances, fire trucks-each with blue or red lights flashing, one of my friend’s peered out the window of the eatery and said in amazement, “Something must have happened”. We all laughed at the understatement, and, to this day, it is a standing joke when we hear sirens to look at each other and say, “Something must have happened.”
But it is no joke what happens when the sirens are blaring, and the lights are flashing. It typically means someone is in trouble and in need of help. And it means that those watchers are now on their way to meet that need. I always try to remember to say a little prayer when I hear the siren and see those flashing lights. Pray for those who may be in trouble and those who rush to their aid. I am grateful for those who watch over us.