Imagine being a person who people call on the worst day of their lives.
Imagine being that police officer or firefighter who is first on the scene after a sports car plows into a tractor-trailer. Everyone – from passers-by who need help getting around the wreckage to the person whose life is ebbing away as the Jaws of Life tool pries twisted steel – expects the first responders to work miracles. Most times they do. Sometimes, though, they can’t, and those become among the worst days of the first responders’ lives, too.
Imagine what it’s like for a town cop to respond to a neighbor’s house after the neighbors’ son has hanged himself in his closet or the daughter has overdosed in her parents’ bathroom. After performing first aid they know won’t work, they stay to administer a different kind of first aid to the ones left behind.
Imagine returning year after year to homes where abusers continue to strike and victims remain pawns in a justice system that seldom delivers justice. On your next overtime shift, sip from a welcome cup of coffee and then imagine dropping it as an alarm rings. You gear up, take off and prepare to walk into a burning building that contains god knows what. Gasoline stored in the basement? Fireworks in the bedroom? A child hiding under a bed? And what happens when you can’t reach that child?
Being a first responder means always expecting the unexpected. One moment can be spent joking with colleagues, sharing the black humor that is one of the few coping mechanisms police and firefighters have, and the next moment being shot at or having a floor collapse beneath your feet. It means that any day could be your last.
Be it a metropolitan area or a small town, the public doesn’t have a true sense of the scope of a first responder’s duties. It’s never just another day at the office.
Lives depend on their training and bravery, on their willingness to put the public good ahead of their own. Police and firefighters always answer the call for help, but who helps them?
There are few resources for first responders dealing with the stresses of their jobs, and that there is no system-wide program. Those stresses don’t remain at the workplace; they follow the first responders home, where personal relationships can be affected.
We shouldn’t wait until it’s a crisis, until there’s another suicide. We must do more for those police officers and firefighters who need help coping with the stresses of their jobs.
After all, first responders are always there for us when we need them. We need to be there for them, too.