Monday will be a first for firsts. Congress has declared Monday, Oct. 28, as National First Responders Day. It’s a day to think about how we support those who are there for us, first.

Saying thank you occasionally is a great start. Certainly, acknowledging the services they provide for our communities is important. It just isn’t enough.

First Responders Day recognizes that firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians are not the only kind of first responders. Anyone who jumps into action immediately when there is an accident, danger or an emergency counts. This can include ski patrollers, lifeguards, doctors and nurses, and even equipment operators who are specially trained to provide life-saving services when first on the scene.

First Responders Day should remind us that those skills don’t just happen.

First responders train extensively to do what they do. Of course, they must master the necessary skills to qualify for their roles. They also need continued training to stay sharp and to acquire the best information and additional skills that are essential as their years in service add up.

In the modern world, communities change around first responders. Responders start work when the world they serve looks one way, but rapidly changing demographics generally require them to adapt to unfamiliar cultures, learn a new language and understand different rhythms of daily life. Those changes mean mid-career training.

First responders also need ready access to mental-health resources.

In 2017, 116 firefighters died by suicide, according to the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance. First responders are often exposed to enormous trauma, exposure that leaves a mark. Many rarely talk about the stress.

Battalion Chief Dionisio Mitchell of the Kern County (California) Fire Department says that not only do first responders not want to let down the people who trust them, “We detach from our emotions.”

Within our communities, citizens can support first responders by paying attention at budget time and asking public officials to support training and health services for responders, as well as equipment and buildings. We can also make our own disaster preparations to lighten the load on professional first responders when the inevitable emergencies occur.

National First Responders Day is one way to acknowledge the burdens carried by those willing to be first on the scene of trouble. The rest of the year is for the rest of us to find ways to shrink that burden.

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