In June 2019, the Senate unanimously passed a new bill designating Oct. 28 as "Honoring the Nation's First Responders Day." On the inaugural occasion of this observance, we recognize the vast number of people who serve in these critical roles to protect communities around the nation.

How many citizens serve as first responders?

In 2003, the Department of Homeland Security defined first responders as "individuals who in the early stages of an incident are responsible for the protection and preservation of life, property, evidence, and the environment, including emergency response providers […], as well as emergency management, public health, clinical care, public works, and other skilled support personnel (such as equipment operators) that provide immediate support services during prevention, response, and recovery operations."

According to a 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Labor, there are approximately 1.2 million people employed as first responders. Many of them are veterans, including 10% of emergency medical technicians (EMTs), 19% of firefighters and 25% of police officers who continue their service in communities across the nation.

"The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.""The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement."

Additionally, the American Security Council Foundation estimates that another 62.6 million volunteers operate in first-responder capacities, offering emergency support and disaster recovery aid. The following statistics from the ASCF illustrate just how many people it takes to keep the nation safe from harm and provide emergency aid in times of trouble.

Emergency medical service (EMS) professionals care for patients before they arrive at the hospital, transporting and treating 16 million patients by ambulance each year. Around 890,000 EMS professionals currently serve in the U.S., including about 142,000 paramedics and 600,000 EMTs.

Law enforcement officers patrol local communities, protecting citizens in need and putting a stop to criminal threats and activities. An estimated 800,000 police officers serve throughout the U.S.

Firefighters rush to road incidents, burning buildings and citizens in danger to put out fires, administer rescue operations and provide life support services. Of the 1.3 million firefighters in the U.S., about 31% are career firefighters and 69% are volunteers.

How can we honor first responders?

First responders work long hours, face significant dangers, and risk their lives in service of others. On National First Responders Day, we remember those who have saved lives and those who have lost their own in the line of duty. We thank those who bravely fight to save the people and property impacted by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. Additionally, we recognize those whose courage, readiness, and day-to-day service too often goes unnoticed.

Communities around the U.S. have erected monuments and memorials, distributed commemorative coins, and organized tributes to thank first responders for their sacrifice and service. On a more personal level, there are plenty of ways to show gratitude to the selfless individuals in our lives and communities.

You can express your support by mailing a thank-you note to a paramedic unit or sending a gift basket to your local fire department. Donate your time or money to a charitable drive or cause hosted by the first responders in your area. Use your online presence to dedicate a few words to our nation's first responders, or simply say "thank you" when you see a police officer at work.

As Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said in a statement, "Our first responders save countless lives every day, and many tragically pay the ultimate price in the line of duty — a sacrifice we should never forget. Designating a day to honor their service and sacrifice is the least we can do to express our gratitude."