Investigating the Term – First Responders?

(This is not going to be popular. I will get hate mail.)

I went to eat lunch with an old friend the other day, a 40 year vet,  cop and when we climbed into his SUV squad car, I spotted a cool-looking ball cap on the back seat amid some cop-clutter. I picked it up and the design and shape was great. The text read something about a fire department. 
“Nice hat,” I said.
“Yeah, got it free at training event. But, I won’t wear a fucking fire department hat.
We both laughed. I got that. I know what he means. It’s a dysfunctional family history. An abject jealously. Do you know about it?

…you have to understand I am an old cop. When I told my friends I was going to retire years ago, one said, “You can’t! You bleed blue!”  Nice sentiment. But after 20 years of retirement, I cut my face shaving the other day and it was indeed…leaking red blood. Still, I have a stout DNA connection to that job. I still stay connected to the people, the issues and I am very introspective about police shootings. So, while I still have a “older, distracted dog in the hunt,” I am out of the business. As Delta, Blackhawk Down, vet Paul Howe puts it in his book, “I was once an AG – action guy. Now I am just a Former Action Guy, or a…FAG.”  So, as a FAG, I can speak more freely about public safety subjects. This exact subject here? The nuances of the term – First Responders. Then second, some embarrassing disclosures about the some cop vs fireman feuds that most people don’t know about, and how that intermingles with the pop ” first responder” heyday.

There a million and a half ways to screw up every day as a cop. Not to mention being sued, fired, beaten and shot at. It is hard for any cop to stay out of trouble these days. Even abstract trouble. Even silly trouble. And when you feel the consistent heat or wrath from the admin or the public, the old veteran sergeant would repeat the running joke line about cops and firemen.

“You’re a cop. If you wanted to loved? You shoulda joined the fire department.”

The fire department. And there you have it. For decades now, did you know that in many cities in the USA there are underground rumblings of cops vs. fireman? Many cops have a jealousy, a resentment about firemen.

It really starts with the public idolization, and then government budget battles, and the fact that while cops are out getting spit on, or cleaning vomit out of the back seat of their cars, firemen are making spaghetti dinners and inventing new fishing lures.  Some run family businesses. They work out, watch TV, and even get paid to sleep. Look at the satirical clock photo. So through time, lot of police officers have just a little resentment about firemen. I guess I should say firefighters, but whatever.

Yeesss, through the years we work together when dispatched, but this little resentment lingers here and there. A police commander from Wisconsin, writes “In law enforcement we call firefighters Second Responders. The firefighter motto “Sleep til you’re hungry, Eat til you’re tired”. Oh yeah, and if you can’t sleep, wash your wife’s car.”   A 40 year vet from Los Angeles P.D. wrote me and said. “Right on brother. Those words (this essay) could have come right put of my mouth.”  North, south, east and west this little jealously feud exits.

Merriam Webster notes that the first serious definition of “First Responder” appeared on the scene in 1970 and read: “Definition of first responder- a person (such as a police officer or an EMT) who is among those responsible for going immediately to the scene of an accident or emergency to provide assistance.”

No…firemen? Then, and I don’t know exactly when, maybe since 911, the term “First Responders” became hip, patriotic and popular and for quite some time now, the term grouped police, fire and ambulance folks. Ambulance folks can be fire department people or private contractor people. People with “lights and sirens.” I think when the public hears the term “First Responders” they now think of the big three. After all, when we are all shot, stabbed, crushed or broken, we sure do like to see those EMT people arrive and quickly. When there’s a fire, you sure need firefighters.

The public – you – being wonderful, have done wonders for the big three, since you have lumped us together. Golf tournaments, benefits, fund raisers…what else? You name it. “Help our first responders!” Even some politicians have shined in the uplifting. It seems through the years the term “First Responders” has taken on a life of its own. Almost become flippant. Cavalier. The new Avengers! Police. Fire. Emergency Medical annnnddd Captain America!

We do all need them, and by some broad definition, they all respond very quickly. Get there “first.” But speaking of hats, let me put my police ball cap on. Statistically, who actually gets “there” first? And to what exactly? A car wreck? Heart attack? Robbery? Shooting? A fight? Usually, it’s the PO-lice. Despite bad response times, we are already “out and about.” And have a nasty knack of getting there first. Police First Responders. These days when I review a police officer shooting, I often shake my head and mutter, “cannon fodder.” They  get shot, and-or killed just arriving to a scene with some frequency, trying to figure out the situation and the people.

Cannon fodder for those of you outside the business is defined as “an informal, derogatory term for combatants who are regarded or treated by government or military command as expendable in the face of enemy fire.” If you dissect a lot of police shootings, you see that first responder COPS, are often mere, unlucky cannon fodder. Getting there first. The garbled message of “shots fired” or “need back-up,” hits the airwaves and technically, the back-up, the…second and third responders if you will, come better prepared for a critical incident. Eventually the ‘first responder” EMTs come fourth or fifth, or – I might add – or, they don’t enter until the area at all until it is safe enough. Again, nuance. What is the actual, physical, timeline order of response of responders? I guess it is a bit clumsy to cheer for the “FGOG of R! ” – that being the “First, (second thru fourth) “General,” Overall Group of Responders.”

Everybody knows that the police do a lot more other than responding to stuff. Like, what happens BEFORE the response? Police have to do things like traffic stops and arrests and take action in suspicious circumstances when and where they INITIATE dangerous situations and outcomes. Is that even an official, “first responder definition” in the “first responders” world? I guess in an abstract way they are “responding,” to something, but un-dispatched, and they are actually kicking something off aren’t they? Not dispatched-sent to a problem.  So not only are police professional responders, they are also “initiators.” What’s the response time to initiation? Zero seconds?  

I will put it to you, that being an “initiator cop” and a “first responder cop” is a helleva lot more spontaneously difficult, complicated, dangerous, diverse and tricky than being a first responder fireman or EMT, with not just their lives but their job security on the line. Read the news lately? So, this is my personal take on the toughest job in the First Responder categories. 

I am not trying to suggest that the of job of fireman or EMT wasn’t and still isn’t dangerous. I do remember a time, decades ago when EMTs and firemen charged into hostile neighborhoods to help folks and got a broken, black and white TV set dropped on their heads from the 5th floor. Or, when they charged into a shooting and got hurt. But soon, there were protocols in place for many fire and EMT responders to lay back and wait until they deemed entry was safe. Who – makes – it – safe? The folks with the guns. The PO-lice. But yeah, bad stuff still happens to them. Please do read the links below.

Here’s a big picture list of dangerous jobs in America. Life working in the US of A is dangerous…

1-Fishers and related fishing workers
2-Logging workers
3-Aircraft pilots and flight engineers
5-Refuse and recyclable material collectors
6-Structural iron and steel workers
7-Driver/sales workers and truck drivers
8-Farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers
9-Supervisors of landscape, lawn & groundskeeping workers
10-Electrical power-line installers and repairers
11-Miscellaneous agricultural workers
12-First-line supervisors of construction  & extraction workers
13-Helpers, construction trades
14-Maintenance and repair workers, general
15-Grounds maintenance workers
16-Construction laborers
17-First-line supervisors of mechanics, installers and repairers
18-Police and sheriff’s patrol officers
19-Operation engineers and construction equipment operators
20-Mining machine operators
21-Taxi drivers and chauffeurs
22-Athletes, coaches, umpires and related workers
23-Painters, construction and maintenance

Score cops 19th. Fire is 24. EMTs not on the list. The news doesn’t report the deaths of fisherman or garbage-men, like they do in police and fire work. This creates a false sense of “danger status.” I have seen a CBS news report once that combined police and fire, and ranking the combo as 15 on the danger list. Take out the cop stats though, and firefighters drop a lot, with another news report stating that being pizza delivery man is more dangerous than firefighting. You know…traffic accidents. (Maybe pizza men need lights and sirens too? What do you think?)

A lot of this great firefighter safety has to do with experience, advancing technology and methodology. Job smarts. If EMTs are ever in the top 72 dangerous jobs? Let me know. I might have missed that year. I recall that vehicle accidents and injuries lifting people and so forth, are problems. Plus the occasional whack-out, knucklehead.

But seriously, danger is not the only review of first responder operations. Being ready to go and getting there ASAP to help is. And the subject of danger is associated with bravery and heroism. Avengers assemble!

More roofers die. But we respond. Still, it is nice to see the overall appreciation, the “Our First Responders” flag waving. Nice to stand on the elevated platform. But an insider’s view? The police “collective” does look to its right and left on the heroes platform and sees the “Fire Collective” and the “Medical Collective” and we can have a deeper, insider opinion on the depth and definitions of the term, “First Responders.” But did you now there are even more First Responders on the platform. It’s getting crowded.

Did you know that despite the common, current “big 3” impression, a newer, dictionary definition of First Responders is “someone designated or trained to respond to an emergency. Such as a lifeguard.” They offer up a lifeguard as the only example? Think about how many ways that new definition can be split into various job titles. Then think  about the definition of the word “emergency.”

U.S. Homeland Security Presidential Directive, HSPD-8 piles on: “The term “first responder” refers to those 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 defined in section 2 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 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.”

A lot more people on that hero platform that are not getting shot and burned up. People with no lights and sirens!  Oh well, even the Avengers keep growing and growing too, I guess. But that starts sounding like a whole bunch of first responders.

Of course anyone at any time can be hero. When asked who my heroes are, I always say “cops, soldiers, doctors.” These are very broad terms. I don’t feel bad about not mentioning lifeguards, plumbers or tractor operators.  I do feel just a little bit bad by not mentioning firefighters, though. Just a little. But I am still not going to wear the above aforementioned fire, ball cap, either. It’s just a long, dysfunctional family history thing. Even though I don’t bleed blue blood anymore. It’s red, and if I see a lot of it coming out of me? I will damn sure quickly call an EMT.

Article on this EMT subject, click here:

Article on this Firefighter subject, Click here:


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