Safety patrol braves storm to keep people safe at New Year’s
It’s 1:30 a.m. and three citizens wearing safety vests descend the icy steps of the Nome Visitor’s Center on Front Street. The wind is howling and snowdrifts are up to knee level on the sidewalk in front of the building. The three are volunteers of the Nome Safety Patrol and during their two-hour shift they’ll walk the active stretch of Front Street, ensuring that New Year’s revelers aren’t victims of the cold, the ice underfoot or the wind.
“It’s to help those in need,” says volunteer Chuck Titus, when asked to explain the purpose of the patrol. “Whether they need us to call a cab or an ambulance or the police. To help them up if they’re slipping and falling, to break up fights and to call the appropriate authorities.”
As the New Year’s Eve fireworks have been cancelled due to the storm there are fewer people in the Front Street bars than there might have been. But there’s plenty of foot traffic up and down the sidewalk as the partiers walk to the different bars.
Jenny Kuzuguk and Daniel Hobbs make up the rest of the team.
“It is pretty tame tonight,” observes Titus. “Because there were no fireworks most people are celebrating at home. There’s a few people up and I’ve only seen one that slipped.”
As we walk down the sidewalk toward the Board of Trade Saloon smokers braving the Arctic wind greet the safety patrol with enthusiasm. A lot of them thank the volunteers and tell them their work is appreciated. A few insist on hugging the volunteers.
“Happy New Year and thank you!” says one hugger.
Titus talks of his frustration with the icy, snow-covered sidewalks. While some businesses have cleared the space in front of their establishment most have not. Titus would like to see the city be more aggressive in clearing away the snow.
“That would be a suggestion we could address more, maybe with some volunteers from Seaside,” he says. But tonight it would be a battle. The wind is intense and the drifting snow piles up fast.
The reporter observers that everybody is in a good mood tonight.
“Most of the time,” says Titus. “Sometimes some people overindulge in alcohol and we get some drama. You know, fights and stuff. Here in the city we all try to do our part to help them so they don’t get injured more.”
But we see no fights, nothing but happy people thanking the safety patrol and wishing us a Happy New Year.
In front of the Board of Trade smokers mingle about, hunched against the wind. One man asks Titus for a cigarette and Titus obliges with a smile.
Daniel Hobbs, one of the three volunteers, works at Norton Sound Hospital and volunteers every year for the safety patrol.
“It is one of the ways that I can serve community,” he says. Asked if anything exciting ever happens he replies that it can.
“There’s always the possibility. People are always saying ‘Oh Safety patrol! Thank you for what you’re doing!’ And they stumble off. And then there are the times where you’ve got everybody pretty much cleared off and you’ve got one or two people who are still standing up against the building and can barely keep their heads up. That’s when you really need to get it taken care of, especially this time of year when it’s cold.”
Tonight nobody appears to have had a few too many, but the night is young. The second safety patrol shift, from 3:30 a.m. until 5:30 a.m,, might find more revelers needing help.
At one point Titus comments that the Polaris Bar used to be one of the primary stops. But now there’s just a big empty space where the hotel used to be.
By 3 a.m. the bars are starting to empty into taxis and a calm night looks to be winding down. But the safety patrol will stay on the street until 3:30 a.m., and then the second shift will take over to watch over the town.