For several years, Oct. 28 has been recognized as National First Responders Day with congressional resolutions, state and local government resolutions, other accolades, plus discounts and promotions at stores and restaurants. All those things sound terrific and are likely graciously received by police officers, firefighters, EMTs and paramedics – if they have the time to pause for a moment to read the news, open their email or check their social media feeds.
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Our nation’s first responders are busier than ever before. I am sure you see some of the headlines – crime is increasing, and EMS is the healthcare safety net for millions of Americans. Headlines you probably don’t see, because most first responders don’t want to draw attention to themselves or appear ungrateful or unprepared, is that we are experiencing unprecedented levels of traumatic stress, our departments are struggling to retain members, and there aren’t enough people in line to become public servants to cover regular retirements, let alone the early retirements and people leaving the career after just a few years because they are so physically or mentally injured that they are unable to continue.
Physical and emotional challenge
The first responders in your community are on duty 24/7/365. They might get a break when their shift ends, but the work never ends. It’s nearly impossible to “leave work at work” because the work of responding to and caring for others, often at their worst moment, isn’t easily forgotten or paused simply by leaving work. Our first responders see and hear things most of us never want to even imagine.
Because of shift work schedules, many first responders are working 48 hours or more per week. The constant shift holdovers and nearly unlimited overtime requests, which sound great until you actually are regularly working 60+ hours per week, keep our first responders from their friends and families, as well as the hobbies and varied interests that can help keep them physically and mentally healthy.
The set of skills required for this work – while under constant scrutiny from regulators, politicians and the media – is complex and dynamic. We’ve asked a lot of our first responders to be on the front lines of a global pandemic, widespread civil unrest, and climate change caused natural disasters.
Recognizing and appreciating first responders
The public safety system is under tremendous stress, and good people are doing the best they can with the resources available to them. Knowing that most first responders chose to be first responders because they want to help others and serve their community is the first step to recognizing National First Responders Day.
Here are seven other things you can do to support your local, state and federal first responders.
Wave, smile, share a warm greeting and start a conversation. Ask about the challenges and rewards of being a first responder. Ask what they need to do their job better and more safely.
Handwrite a card or letter of appreciation. While this is a great activity for school children, thank you notes are welcome from anyone of any age.
Connect with your first responder agencies on social channels. Like their pages. Comment and engage, especially on the posts recognizing notable accomplishments and achievements.
Participate in events that connect citizens and first responders. Be on the lookout for opportunities like these: Coffee with a Cop, an open house, a citizen’s academy and memorial stair climbs in support of first responder charities.
Visit local, state and national memorials for fallen paramedics, law enforcement officers and firefighters.
Attend local department fundraising events and donate to first responder fundraisers, as well as charities that support the families of the fallen, including the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and National EMS Memorial Foundation.
Finally, vote for candidates who are going to support funding for public safety so the first responders in your community have the equipment and training they need to help you, while also keeping themselves safe. No fire department should have to sell pancakes to buy a fire truck. EMTs and paramedics should not have to work three jobs to make a living wage, let alone a thriving wage, and our cops should not have to buy their own ammunition to practice for annual firearm qualification.
It has never been easy to be a first responder, but the job right now is as challenging as it has ever been. If you feel called to serve your community, ask how you can join your department as a full-time member or employee or serve in an auxiliary or support role. Your interest and involvement will be appreciated.