9-1-1 What’s your emergency? When crisis strikes, we instinctively pick up the phone and call first responders, counting on them to drop everything and run to our aid. Police officers, firefighters and Emergency Medical Technicians take charge when others may panic, defusing violence, putting out fires, rendering first aid and transporting the injured. When calm is restored and patients are in recovery, first responders are on to the next call, often with little or no thanks or fanfare. It’s what they do every day.
These selfless heroes deserve our appreciation, and Thank You First Responder, a nonprofit organization, has started a grassroots effort to raise awareness, support, celebrate, honor and most importantly say thank you to first responders. The group is pushing for “Honoring the Nation’s First Responders Day” in Congress, has written and recorded an anthem song and established a website where people can record their stories and thank first responders online and through social media.
“In the aftermath of places like Ferguson, Baltimore and South Carolina, it’s incredibly important that we have this connection, to care about first responders and their families,” said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. “We’re people who run to danger rather than run away from it, and I have so much respect for our profession and the people I work with.”
While he acknowledges people have had negative contacts with law enforcement, and law enforcement has had negative contact with people, he said those numbers are small. “In the past two or three years I have never had more citizens come up to me and say God bless you, I pray for you and the agency, thank you for what you do.”
Event Honors Those Who Sacrificed on September 11
On Patriot Day, first responders and all who sacrificed at ground zero after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, will be honored during a Thank You First Responder event from 5 – 11 p.m. at Bokampers, 3115 NE 32nd Ave., Fort Lauderdale.
Following a first responder welcome by Broward Commissioner Chip LaMarca, guests can enjoy an NFL Monday Night Football Doubleheader with the New Orleans Saints versus the Minnesota Vikings at 7 p.m. and the Denver Broncos playing the San Diego Chargers at 10:20 p.m. Singer and Songwriter Matt Jackson will perform the Thank You First Responder National Anthem live at 8:30 p.m.
“With everything that’s going on domestically, it’s important to make sure those people who help to protect us know we appreciate them,” said Kim Bokamper, a former Miami Dolphin linebacker and restaurateur. “Twenty percent of the sales from that night will go to Thank You First Responders. We’ll have bagpipers coming in and videos of local veterans and first responders who have lost their lives, so we’ll bring the families in and wrap our arms around them,” he added.
A firsthand account
PJ Schrantz, an Army Veteran and retired New York City Fireman, was at ground zero on September 11 when four coworkers from his fire house engine 201 lost their lives. His godfather and mentor, Bill Wren, who worked in fire safety for the twin towers, was also killed. “A lot of heroes lost their lives that day,” said Schrantz. Describing it as a very dark time in his life, he explained, “While I was at ground zero sifting through body parts and rubble, my heart was at home with my 5-year-old son who was fighting leukemia.”
Two years later his son died in his arms at seven years old. “I was trained to save lives and the one life I really wanted to save I couldn’t save, so I blamed God.” Then on Easter Sunday of 2008, Schrantz said, “God came into my life in a profound way.” Since then he’s been helping veterans and first responders who suffer from PTSD and suicidal thoughts and is working to open a drug and alcohol treatment center specifically for them.
Schrantz said he feels like police officers especially may be demoralized because of the cultural divide and division. “They go in for a cup of coffee in uniform and are refused service, but it’s like no, no, no – these are the good guys. It’s right to thank them,” said Schrantz.
“I was at ground zero for eight days, didn’t take a shower, slept on the hood of my car and only left to take my son to chemo, but during that time I took a walk, left the perimeter and came face to face with an Asian couple with a big cooler. Their little girl reached in, handed me a bottle of water and all they kept saying was thank you, thank you. And that truly meant the world to me.”
A national holiday
Beyond the event, Thank You First Responder is lobbying for the passage of an official “Honoring the Nation’s First Responder’s Day.”
On May 18, Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC) joined Reps. Mike Capuano (D-MA) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD), along with Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to introduce a House Resolution annually designating October 28 as a national holiday.
Congressman Meadows said, “The idea for this resolution came directly from a Western North Carolina constituent [and South Floridian] who, like me, believes that our first responders represent the best of our nation. Having met with hundreds of our first responders, I can tell you that their dedication to their community is unmatched. These are men and women who are consistently willing to put their lives on the line for their friends, neighbors and country, and they deserve to be recognized for that sacrifice.”
While the resolution passed in the Senate on August 4, it has yet to be voted on in the House.
The family of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) police officer Sean Collier, who was killed during the events following the 2013 Boston Marathon attack, played an important role advocating for the resolution.
“Honoring the Nation’s First Responders Day would be a meaningful tribute to my brother and all first responders. I am glad to see it pass the Senate, and I’m grateful to all those who have taken up this cause,” said Andrew Collier, brother of Sean Collier.
The initiative came after Doug Stepelton, of the Stacy Foundation, had been reflecting on the sacrifices of first responders and his pastor suggested something should be done to honor them. Since he served in the Army National Guard Military Police and studied law enforcement and criminology in college, the idea resonated with him, so he phoned Congressman Meadows. “Here’s what gets me,” said Stepelton. “In August we have a National Girlfriends Day. We have a National Underwear Day, a National Watermelon Day, Yogurt Day, Rice Pudding Day, but there’s nothing to honor first responders in any capacity.”
An Anthem to First Responders
Soon the idea for a song was born and Stepelton solicited the help of Matt Jackson, formerly director of contemporary worship at Christ Church in Pompano Beach.
Jackson, recalled, “I honestly didn’t know where to begin and didn’t think I could do it. Over time I began to remember how when my father was dying at home in a hospital bed he would often fall out of the bed while my mother was bathing him. The medics would come out with full respect and honor for my father, pick him up and place him back in the bed. Those guys were heroes in the way they served my father and mother. As I pondered that year I was able to write this anthem. “
Ultimately Jackson traveled to Los Angeles to record the song with Producer and Engineer Darrell Thorp, a multi-Grammy award winner who has worked with artists such as Paul McCartney, Ray Charles, Elton John, Switchfoot and others.The resulting song, “Thank You First Responder” is a touching anthem instilling emotion and a true sentiment of appreciation for First Responders who demonstrate bravery daily. The sheet music to the anthem is available online and live performances of the song are being performed at ceremonies around the country.
You can help thank first responders for the difficult job they do every day, putting their lives on the line to protect and serve our communities. Visit www.ThankYouFirstResponder.org to do the following:
* Thank a first responder
* Listen to and watch the video of the anthem and share it on social media to inspire others to do the same.
* Sign the petition, contact your representative and help to educate others about the need for a national day of recognition for first responders.
* Share your stories of the meaningful ways first responders have impacted your life and encourage others to support the initiative.
* Attend the Thank You First Responders event at Bokampers on September 11 and help us honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.