In the middle of the month – May 15-21 – are two separate but equally important observances: National Emergency Medical Services Week and National Police Week. During this time we have a chance to say thank-you to the men and women who deliver emergency medical services (EMS) and police protection in our township.
Unfortunately, these events get little publicity outside of EMS or police circles. It is rare for a small community like South Brunswick to have public ceremonies honoring these groups.
I would like to bridge this gap by having some of these dedicated individuals share their most memorable moments in service to our community. Because of space limitations, this will be a two-part column that will conclude next week with a discussion of National EMS Week.
To Serve and Protect
The seeds of National Police Week were planted by President John F. Kennedy in 1962 when he designated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day.
Today, the week-long program highlights include a 200-mile Police Unity Tour bicycle ride from NJ to Washington DC and a candlelight vigil at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington.
What began with 18 riders has ballooned into 1,200, and last year’s tour raised more than $1.3 million in rider support.
The annual tour, begun in May 1997, is designed to bring public awareness of police officers who have died in the line of duty and to honor their sacrifice. The secondary purpose is to raise funds for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and Museum.
South Brunswick has a personal stake in the tour.
Two fallen officers honored by the Police Unity Tour served this township. Officer John Gurnovich suffered a fatal heart attack in 1966 while attacked on a disturbance call, and Officer Robert Cardone died in 1989 after being struck by a car during a traffic stop.
This year, South Brunswick police officers will again participate in this ride.
You can watch the candlelight vigil to honor these fallen officers on Friday, May 13, by registering at http://support.nleomf.org/site/PageNavigator/CandlelightVigilRegistration.
The Christmas Miracle: December 2009
I asked members of the South Brunswick Police Department to share their most memorable experiences serving the community. Patrol Sergeant James Ryan responded with the following story, which the police officers involved call “The Christmas Miracle”:
“On December 12, 2009, a South Brunswick teenage girl and a few of her friends climbed onto an ice-covered warehouse roof. A skylight gave way, and the teenager plummeted 25 feet into the darkness below.
“Her friends were scared and uncertain what had happened and called out to her in the dark but got no response. They called her cell phone but again, there was no answer. At that point the three friends called the police, reporting that their friend had gone through the roof and was injured, but they did not know where they were.
“Although the youths did not know their location, police were able to trace the 911 cell phone call to the area of a warehouse at Hay Press and Georges Roads. The South Brunswick Police, along with the Monmouth Junction Fire Department, forced their way into the warehouse.
“The emergency workers started looking through the dark warehouse and calling out to the girl, but there was no answer. We rounded a corner of boxes and found her on the ground, motionless. In the seconds it took to find a pulse, all our hearts sank with dismay.
“After determining she had a pulse, paramedics told us the situation was very bad, and she might not make it. As her friends gathered outside, crying, there was little any of us could do but wonder about the tragedy that had taken place and pray for God’s intervention.
“We found the girl’s parents, rushed them to the hospital and waited for word. As the hours passed by, doctors offered limited hope that she would ever make a full recovery and listed her condition as critical. She was in a coma, and her prognosis was not too optimistic.
“Something happened in the next few days as her family held constant vigil at her bedside. She began to show signs of recognition and slowly came off her ventilator. Her struggle continued through extensive rehabilitation. Her family was the core of her strength. She regained her ability to walk and talk and even returned to school.
“In December 2010, as the squad of officers who helped her were celebrating their annual Christmas gathering at a local restaurant, in walked the girl few thought would survive.
“Her struggle to recapture the life she almost lost and to thank those who helped her gave all of us a better understanding of the true meaning of Christmas.”
We as a community need to find a way to offer increased and well-deserved public recognition to our police officers. Perhaps there could be a town council proclamation or an annual official Police Appreciation Day.
Think about it and write the mayor and other elected officials with your suggestions.
Most important, while we wait for public action, each of us can offer a simple thank-you when we see an officer and teach our children to do the same.
Each day men and women in police departments across our nation put their lives at risk to keep us safe. Please take this time to honor and remember the fallen officers, as well as those who continue to watch over us.
(Part II on National EMS Week will appear next week.)