While we should be thanking our firefighters, police, paramedics and EMTs every day, October 28 is National First Responders Day, which offers a unique opportunity to show our appreciation. These heroic men and women are the first ones on the scene, no matter the incident, whether it's an accident, tragedy or natural disaster. They devote their lives to making the world a better — and safer — place.
The creation of National First Responders Day
The day of recognition is a relatively new holiday, but it was a long time coming. Congress made October 28 National First Responders Day in 2017, though the first bipartisan resolution passed through the Senate in 2019.
At the time, there were about "4.6 million career and volunteer firefighters, police, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics serving communities all across the United States," according to the Department of Homeland Security. Even before the creation of National First Responders Day, Americans knew how valuable and necessary they were.
First Responders: The heroes of the pandemic
Only a few months after the first recognition of National First Responder Day, the COVID-19 pandemic would sweep the globe. First responders were the ones who stepped forward when no one else could.
Often first on the scene, emergency responders are exposed to unique and stressful situations that increase their likelihood of contraction. According to The Associated Press, many first responders have lost their lives as a result of COVID-19. And while the height of the pandemic is behind us, it's still just as crucial to support these brave front-line workers.
Continuing to Champion Public Safety
Outside of the pandemic, natural disasters caused destruction across the U.S. in the last few years, requiring firefighters, EMT providers and other first responders to show up in unprecedented force.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, nearly 60% of the topsoil and subsoil in the U.S. is experiencing moderate to severe drought. This has led to a staggering increase in wildfires. The National Interagency Fire Center reports that over 22 million acres of land were burned between 2020 and 2023. Firefighters from around the nation risked their lives and left their families to protect the environment and American citizens.
Beyond the pervasive fires, the U.S. has faced an increase in floods, droughts, hurricanes, blizzards, earthquakes and other natural disasters. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's data shows that there have been 23 weather disasters in 2023, as of September 25, with the number steadily rising since the 1980s.
Supporting Our First Responders Act
During the pandemic, it quickly became clear that the additional burdens placed on first responders were causing strain on the system. As a result, the same emergency situation could receive vastly different responses depending on where you live.
To combat these issues and provide greater support to critical responders, Representatives Andy Kim (D-NJ) and Mike Carey (R-OH) have proposed the bipartisan Supporting Our First Responders Act.
This Act would authorize $50 million each year for the next 5 years for the new Department of Health and Human Services grant program. The aim of this program is to help both EMS providers and the personnel on the ground with:
- Recruitment and retention
- Mental health care
- Training reimbursements
- Facility upgrades
- And more
While the bill hasn't passed yet, it would undoubtedly help ease the stress put on EMS providers from the start of the pandemic.
Commemorating National First Responder Day
When National First Responders Day was announced, Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) explained the reason for the new day of recognition.
"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," he said in a June 7, 2019 press release.
The 116th Congress wrote in the act that "During times of national crisis, first responders have consistently been a source of aid, hope, and comfort for all Americans."
Show your support for America's brave first responders by thanking them for their service or donating to a first responder charity. Here are a few to choose from:
- National Fallen Firefighters Foundation
- National Association of Police Organizations
- NAEMT Foundation
- Responder Rescue
- Code Green Campaign
National First Responders Day is your opportunity to show gratitude and recognize the professionals who play an important role in ensuring the safety of every American citizen.