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National First Responders Day by Kevin Diehl

April 15, 2013 is one of those days we’d all like to forget but never will. That was the day that two brothers committed a heinous act of terrorism when they detonated pressure cooker bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The blasts killed three people and forever altered the lives of hundreds more. The bombers escaped in the carnage and chaos, and a massive manhunt ensued.

Three days after the bombing the brothers were still on the loose, and law enforcement officials had very few leads. On the evening of April 18, Officer Sean Collier of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Police Department was sitting in his patrol car on the college’s campus. Officer Collier had only been serving with the MIT police for a little over a year, since January 2012. Prior to that he had worked as a civilian employee of the Somerville Police Department. Clearly he had a desire to serve.

At about 10:30 that evening, one of the brothers approached Officer Collier’s car from out of the darkness. Without warning the terrorist opened fire, striking Officer Collier several times. He was killed in the attack. The brothers then tried to steal his service weapon, but they failed.

The two terrorists then carjacked a vehicle and led police on a reckless pursuit while throwing explosive devices at the chasing squad cars. The pursuit ended in Watertown, where one brother was killed in a fierce exchange of gunfire. A Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Police Officer was shot and seriously wounded in the battle.

The following evening the other brother was captured in Watertown after another shootout. He was later convicted of murder.

It turns out there was another victim of this terrorist attack, one that I didn’t know about until I started doing the research for this blog. Officer Dennis Simmonds, of the Boston Police Department, suffered a fatal brain aneurysm while working out at the Boston Police Academy gym on April 10, 2014, almost a year after the bombings.

Officer Simmonds had suffered a head injury April 19th, 2013, when shrapnel from a grenade thrown by one of the terrorists struck him during the shootout in Watertown. The aneurysm was a subsequent result of that injury.

Why am I recounting the events surrounding that bombing from six years ago? Because earlier this year, Sean Collier’s brother Andrew, working with members of Congress, helped to pass a resolution creating National First Responders Day.

Andrew and his family had been trying to make this happen since shortly after the Marathon bombing, but for some reason the idea didn’t get very far. This time, with bipartisan support, the resolution passed. And thus, October 28 is National First Responders Day.

The online petition that urged passage of the resolution said, “It takes truly unique and selfless heroes to put their lives on the line every day for people they don’t know. Now is the time for all Americans to come together behind one campaign to create one day for all First Responders. One day of gratitude. One day to call their own.”

For several years, a number of states and cities have set aside a day to honor first responders, but October 28 of this year is the first time that such a day will be nationally recognized.

I’ve heard it said that while most of us run away from danger, first responders run toward it. I think that’s accurate. Whether by birth or by training, first responders exhibit bravery in the face of peril and calmness in the middle of calamity.

First responders may not put their lives on the line every single day, but on any given day they can be called upon to risk their lives on our behalf. Very few of us go to work each day with that possibility hanging over our head.

But while the life-risking danger of the job garners the headlines, I think there’s an even more important element to being a first responder, one that isn’t as flashy, but for which we should all be grateful. I’m talking about dependability.

We live in a nation where, if an emergency arises – the house is on fire, there’s a burglar breaking in, someone gets injured or seriously ill, there’s a flood – we know that all we need to do is make a phone call, raise the alarm, and in a short time, the cavalry will arrive. We take it for granted, but we shouldn’t.

And that’s what this National First Responders Day is meant to remedy. It’s not a holiday, there probably won’t be any parades, and hopefully there won’t be any mattress sales. But what all of us can do is take a moment to reflect on our good fortune that a brave few of our fellow citizens make it their life’s work to come to the aid of strangers who are suffering their most desperate moment.

It’s actually pretty remarkable if you stop to think about it. And on National First Responders Day, we should do just that.

by Kevin Diehl


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