One of the most difficult careers a person can pick is to become a first responder. Not only do they have to endure tragedy and triumph, but they have to bottle their emotions in ways that many of us can not begin to fathom. Most of the congregation in my church is either a firefighter or has a firefighter or police officer that they are kin to. A lot of these men and women work full time jobs and volunteer. There are a few on the payroll but not many. Being a first responder isn’t glamorous. It takes a high level of skill in order to function well in those roles. Not only do they deal in life or death situations, but they also are the face that our kids see in their schools, their neighborhoods and communities, and throughout their lives. Just as there are good first responders, there are also bad ones.
I suppose watching shows like 9-1-1 and 9-1-1 Lone Star got me to thinking. Many of us don’t have a clue as to the rigorous training that is provided in these careers. We don’t see how a first responder is more prone to anxiety, depression, and PTSD. We see them in uniforms and we think how good they look or how sexy it can be to watch these men and women who deal with tough situations. That’s the last thing on a responders mind. They are just trying to survive each day and hope and pray that anyone they help will survive to see their families, friends, and others.
I have family who served in the military. I don’t get to see them often but they fought in the Vietnam War. They saw devastation. They were in life and death situations and I am grateful for the sacrifice they made. Many fellow soldiers lives were saved because of teamwork. Some of my friends who went to Afghanistan, never made it home. They too worked as a team to save lives. Some lives were lost but they weren’t forgotten.
To be a first responder, a person has to get in great shape not just physically but emotionally as well. There are certification courses that are required in order to become a first responder. Most community colleges offer these types of certifications. Many people continue their education and obtain additional certifications so that they can do more than a basic first responder.
I asked a friend of mine once why they went into that field. She looked at me and said “It’s not because of the money. It’s because I want to help people and I can’t afford to go to medical school but I can afford to become an EMT.” In her mind, she would rather have gotten her foot in the door with a field that she believed she could make a difference. Not everyone has the same reasons for becoming a first responder. Some of them are legacies, some of them have had things happen in their lives that made them want to make a difference. I don’t know all that our first responders endure. I do know that it isn’t all wonderful. They deal with gruesome scenes, miraculous events, unfathomable acts, and heart wrenching stories that are reality. Many of them are not recognized. They give over 100% every day. Every call, every minute, every second is something that they understand could be their last and yet, they push on every day. They carry the memories of those they lost and in some ways has to bottle up their emotions as well as utilize them to give people the best help that they can.
I have friends on the police force who deal with racism and reverse racism every single day. Some of my friends are African American on the force and deal with stereotyping in many different areas. They go into neighborhoods that gunfire and heavy drug use are constantly issues they contend with and know that they may not get to go home to see their kids and it doesn’t deter them from going. Bullets don’t care what color you are. Violence doesn’t have a face of color. Where there is catastrophe, there is an inner strength in people to help heal.
My heart sinks when I hear how police and other first responders engage in violent activity. There are many aspects of first responding that we don’t know all the facts on but the emotional part of us gets angry when police brutality and other horrifying acts from those who are supposed to serve and protect are flipped. I can’t make excuses for the behavior because I wasn’t there. I don’t know why these acts occurred. What I do know is that not every first responder is violent. Many good people are out there every single day risking their lives to help others. Just like every other field has bad apples, first responders are no exception.
I’m going to tell you all a story that actually happened. One of my friends, is a police officer locally. He told me the story of how he had to stop a man who was speeding because his wife was about to give birth to their son. The man was irrational. He was so animated that the officer followed him to the hospital to make sure that the wife could get there. On the way, his wife’s contractions got so intense that he had to pull over. The wife was going to give birth in the car. There was no way to avoid it. The man begged her to hang on but that wasn’t going to happen. As her husband went to help his wife, he collapsed. My friend not only had to make sure that the husband was okay but the baby had to be delivered. This was the first time my friend had to deliver a baby. He wasn’t a doctor. But he had been trained for emergency situations and knew that he had to keep his cool. He called 911 and got them to walk him through what to do because this wasn’t a normal birth. The baby was breech. He had to work quickly and calmly to make sure that the baby and the mom would survive. Thankfully, he was given instructions on what to do and the paramedics arrived just after the child was born. Mom and baby were fine and the father had collapsed from a panic attack. He was fine too. The parents named their son after the police officer and the father wasn’t given a speeding ticket due to extreme circumstances. Not all stories have a happy ending but my friend told me that because things like this occurred, it made his job more rewarding when things like this happen.
I’ve had friends who have had to deal with gang activity. They have had to watch while young kids perished due to violence. Some of my friends are paramedics who have literally held a young person who was stabbed, beaten or shot to death by gangs or other folks. Their hearts literally were breaking as they watched the life slip out of young people who could change the world and yet were being taken away far too soon.
There is no such thing as a perfect first responder. As I mentioned earlier, First Responders often get diagnosed with Anxiety, Depression and PTSD among other health issues. They are continuously exposed to situations that the ordinary person doesn’t regularly encounter. There are lots of things that first responders see. What’s one thing that is at just about every single first responder scene? If you answered lights, you are correct. Police lights, fire truck lights, EMS lights, are all going off to let people know that there has been an incident and to stay out of that area. Whether or not people listen is another story entirely. Most of the first responders I know don’t talk about what they have encountered unless they are asked and even then it’s not to brag or boast. Many of them are matter of fact answers. I have found that the ones who brag about what they have seen are the ones who have little to no experience and haven’t learned that it isn’t a glamorous life. Most of what first responders do is to just be there for the person. They help us stay calm when we are panicked, they help us try to focus on things that are most important.
Once you become a first responder, you will never be the same. It’s no longer about what you want but putting on a first responder uniform, you become aware that you are helping with a greater cause. If you think about becoming a first responder, talk to those who are already in the field to get an idea of what it entails. If you are currently or have been a first responder, thank you. While the average person may or may not know what you deal with daily, in our times of need first responders can make all the difference in the world. Thank you to every man and women who assists others in their time of need. Anyone who works as a first responder whether they are a dispatcher, an EMT, a police officer, firefighter, or military officer or any other position that I’ve neglected to mention, your efforts are appreciated.