- Joe Graviss
Legislative Update - First Responders
They may have different uniforms and job duties, but one quality binds all first responders: They immediately run toward an emergency when the first impulse is to run away.
They deserve recognition every day, but spring and fall are when we officially set aside time to commemorate their invaluable work and sacrifices. This week, for example, recognizes police officers, while May 4th was International Firefighters’ Day and early October is when the country holds National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend.
Last month, there was a week highlighting public-safety communicators, and starting this coming Monday, we will dedicate a week honoring our EMS workers. Several years ago, the General Assembly declared September 11th to be a time honoring all first responders.
In the early 1960s, when President Kennedy proclaimed the first Police Week, what he wrote could apply to anyone who responds during a time of emergency. “It is fitting and proper,” the proclamation said, “that we express our gratitude for the dedicated service and courageous deeds … and for the contributions they have made to the security and well-being of all our people.”
As first responders know all too well, their job of keeping us safe puts them at considerable risk. To honor this ultimate sacrifice, there are statewide memorials for our fallen police officers and firefighters, with the first having more than 500 names and the second having more than 200.
First responders spend years training so they can act on a moment’s notice. Fortunately, this is an area where Kentucky excels.
Eastern Kentucky University, for example, has been educating first responders for about five decades, and a dozen years ago, it began offering one of the country’s first undergraduate programs in homeland security.
Like EKU, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) trains thousands of first responders each year as well, as does the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management.
The Kentucky Office of Homeland Security, meanwhile, plays a crucial role in helping to tie all of this expertise together so that the various agencies can work seamlessly when the need arises.
Over the years, the General Assembly has adopted several laws designed to help our first responders. This year, for example, we toughened the punishment for those convicted of killing or trying to harm on-duty EMS personnel, bringing the penalties in line with those covering police officers and firefighters. We also formally established a wellness and professional development program for firefighters that will include counseling and support services.
The legislature has also made it easier for those who received firefighter or EMT/paramedic training in the military to use that experience when applying for those jobs at home, and it created the Kentucky Blue Alert System, so the public is more aware when a peace officer has been killed or wounded and the offender has not been caught. In addition, we made it easier for our communities to work with first responders in other states in the event of a major catastrophe.
We can never fully re-pay our first responders for all they do for us, but we are forever grateful for the security they provide day and night. Our way of life would not be possible without them, and I am proud that our nation has dedicated time to show our appreciation. If you know of someone in these professions, let them know how much their work means to our community and commonwealth.
If you have any thoughts about this, or any subject affecting Kentucky, please let me know. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org, while the toll-free message line for all state legislators is 1-800-372-7181. If you have a hearing impairment, the number is 1-800-896-0305.