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Sacrifice is a Way of Life for First Responders

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By Tom Konecny

At least once a year it’s easy to get that feeling of goodwill toward all. It’s then we like to empty our pockets or donate our time to a greater cause. Giving is a lot easier when the calendar tells us to. But when Bing Crosby’s exhortations and the mall’s red kettles become out of sight, out of mind, does our benevolent spirit fade? Any soup kitchen will tell you they’re usually overflowing with helpers at the holidays – it’s the rest of the year they need extra hands.

It takes special individuals to give of themselves constantly. It takes an even more exceptional person to do it for total strangers. How about doing it at the drop of a hat, or in the middle of the night, and sometimes without pay? Perhaps the greatest question of all:  why run toward the peril, and not from it?

This is the life of first responders. They live among us. They reside in our communities. We work with them. We play with them. Sometimes we interact and don’t even know who they are, so they often go unnoticed. We depend on them to provide care, and to sustain us at times we’ll never know.

First responder is a bit of a broad term, which technically could encompass a variety of professions, including police, sheriff, fire, EMS and search/rescue. There are also other more non-traditional first responder categories who receive some type of formal training for when called upon, such as park rangers, security officers, lifeguards, camp counselors and pilots.

Helping people has its victories and defeats, and those involving children can be hard to talk about. Dealing with emotion is part of the game. And there’s a huge contrast between responding in larger cities and in rural locales. Perhaps your area has both. Not only can that mean the difference between a full- and part-time job, paid vs. little or no pay, but a differing level of personal connection and acquaintance. In country settings, they might know you, in big cities, probably not.

Among volunteer departments, it takes a lot of understanding from employers and families. Responders might be daytime farmers, nurses, construction workers, or even retired. They’re never truly off-duty because they never know what’s going to happen. And your area’s climate probably doesn’t affect you at your job, particularly if you work inside; first responders must labor through whatever Mother Nature hands them. Through it all, they’ll deal with broken valves, frostbite and freezing truck lines. Danger, risk and bravery are all part of the first responder job description.

The word hero may be overused today, but first responders fit the definition. We love our sports stars, movie stars and action figures, but when we really dig deep and contemplate what it means to save, to sacrifice, to put others first, and all for the greater good, it is there we find our real heroes.

That’s because first responders are heroes in every sense of the word, but they themselves don’t like to acknowledge it. Most don’t want the medals. They realize there’s huge risk, but they embrace it. So go ahead and tell first responders they’re heroes. They’ll reject it and respond by doing what they do best:  putting the focus on others.

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