First Responders: Our Nation’s Finest

America is the land of the free because of the brave. That was true 239 years ago when our Founding Fathers risked their lives and fortune by declaring our independence. It is just as true today, with our armed forces deployed across the world relentlessly defending freedom. This Fourth of July weekend, I am also thankful for the commitment and sacrifices of another group of brave men and women: our first responders.

As most Americans are preparing for vacation, sunshine and barbeques, tens of thousands of police, fire and rescue workers will continue to clock into work. Over the last 50 years, 911 has been ingrained in us as our dependable lifeline in emergencies. Indeed, an estimated 240 million calls a year are made to 911 in the United States. Just as we witnessed at the Washington Navy Yard, we often take for granted that should we need to call, an expert professional will be on the other end of the line, standing at the ready to dispatch police officers or get firemen and paramedics jumping in their vehicles and racing to the scene. The job of a first responder is dangerous, and new names of the fallen are added to the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C., every year.

In addition to the demands and dangers of the jobs of first responders that have been present from the start, our modern times present new challenges and complexities. Enemies of freedom no longer come marching in uniform and abiding by the laws of war. In an era in which our enemies hide among us, our local law enforcement and firefighters have been thrust into a critical role in securing and defending freedom. Today our nation is under a terrorist threat warning; local police, fire and rescue will watch vigilantly, searching for signs of threats among the large crowds at Independence Day celebrations. 

First responders are also being called upon to lead the charge in developing and integrating capabilities to communicate across jurisdictions in the event of a terrorist attack. To that end, the National Emergency Numbers Association, whose mission it is to protect human life, preserve property and maintain the security of our communities, is meeting with emergency personnel this week in Colorado to promote 911 awareness and showcase cutting edge communication systems.

We sleep in peace because our troops are on the frontlines. This Fourth of July, let us also be reminded that we celebrate with the quiet comfort that our first responders are trained and ready to protect and rescue us. Former President Kennedy once said, “We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” As we see and interact with our nation’s finest this weekend, let’s all take a moment to say thank you.

Norton is a homeland security and public safety policy expert. He has served as a senior defense-industry executive and as deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the Office of Legislative Affairs, and is an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University, teaching courses on cyber, homeland security and the legislative process.

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