Gateway Gazette

Help Protect Those who Protect You

Life as a first responder has seemingly never been harder.

Police are being shot and killed. Firefighters are dying on the job. Paramedics are being attacked.

All in a day’s work.

That’s a lot to digest – for emergency responders and the public they serve.

BUT THIS IS JUST AN AMERICAN THING, RIGHT?

There are unquestionable differences between first responder challenges in the U.S. and Canada. For starters, firearms legislation and race/community relations in some regions have created vastly different landscapes.

But in many ways the world is smaller than it has ever been. Social media and readily available access to the Internet have changed the pace and volume of information we consume.

That means that a police shooting in Dallas or an ambulance robbery in Cape Town impacts people across the globe.  First responders talk about these incidents. They influence how they train. They can also influence the mindset they adopt when they work in your community.

THIS IS ALL SOCIAL MEDIA’S FAULT, ISN’T IT?

In a world of instant blame, it would be easy to just wag a finger at social media and throw your hands up in defeat.

Social media allows us to react immediately and anonymously to events that unfold. The result is often ugly. Anger, sadness and vitriol are often expressed instantly and even well-intentioned responses can miss the mark because they lack the appropriate reflection and analysis required to engage in thoughtful discourse.

The “few bad apples” rule also applies, as those spewing hate online are in the minority, despite how vocal they are. And it is easy to forget the positive impact social media can have – in terms of fundraising for good causes, mobilizing the masses to help others or just lifting people up who are down.

FIRST RESPONDERS SIGN UP FOR THIS

Police, firefighters and paramedics sign up for a lot of things when they take on the job. They have to train for the worst possible scenarios and anticipate the unpredictable.

Police sign up to uphold and enforce laws. Firefighters sign up to enter burning buildings. Paramedics sign up to aid people during medical emergencies. First responders sign up to preserve life and help others.

They do not sign up to be targeted by snipers or ambushed by thugs. And at the end of the day, they have families to go home to as well.

BUT THEY NEED TO BE HELD TO A HIGHER STANDARD

First responders most certainly need to be held to a high standard. They are entrusted with a great deal of authority, responsibility and power. That means they need to be accountable for their actions.

What many don’t consider is that emergency responders ARE held to a higher standard.

Every bullet that leaves a police officer’s gun is accounted for, emergency vehicles are tracked by GPS, dispatcher calls are recorded and public inquiries are frequently held to investigate fatalities involving first responders.

In addition, cameras are everywhere. Many departments are outfitted with body-worn cameras and/or emergency vehicles are video equipped. Failing that, the public are armed with dash cams and smart phone cameras – some people even look to engage first responders and goad them into looking bad.

Add to that the scrutiny of the media. That includes the mainstream media, social media and other online watchers. People are posting videos, analysis and commentary on incidents while providing little to no context.

First responders are being watched, they know they’re being watched and they realize there is no room for error when they make split-second decisions.

It’s also worth noting that the first responders you see on TV do not always reflect the reality of dealing with emergencies. Shooting a gun out of someone’s hand is seldom a realistic option, fires can be so devastating that even firefighters should not get too close and as heroic as first responders may seem, none of them are invincible.

WHY CARE WHAT HAPPENS TO FIRST RESPONDERS?

You don’t have to care about emergency responders. They have their lives and you have yours.

Maybe your only interaction with them was an annoying traffic ticket that you really didn’t care for.

Odds are you will have dealings with first responders at some point. You or someone you love will need them during a medical emergency. You will need to call on them when your home or vehicle is severely damaged. Or you or someone you love will need them in the midst of tragedy.

There are countless reasons for you to cross paths with first responders but a likely cause of that interaction is that you need help. And don’t you want them operating at full capacity when you do need their help?

WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH ME? WHAT CAN I DO?

The truth is there are many ways you can look out for first responders, including the following:

1) Recognize the value of first responders and offer support. Say thanks when you see them, stand up for them in conversation, applaud the fine work they do on social media. Why? Because they’re human and you have no idea what they’re dealing with. Everyone likes to feel appreciated.

2) Reserve judgment. When events unfold online we often only learn part of the story. Remember that the context of events is important in understanding them. Allow time for information to come to light and investigations to paint a more complete picture. Think before you post!

3) Realize your actions can have an impact on first responders. People often feel like they have limited influence. But the truth is we can have an impact – and it is often the little things we do that matter. There are things that we do when we get behind the wheel and at work that can have a major impact on the safety of first responders. Check out our safety tips to learn more.

First responder work is dangerous but you can help protect those who protect you.

Source John Petropoulos Memorial Fund

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