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National First Responders Day: A Frontline Perspective on Sacrifice

By Renee Gordon, FirstNet Authority Board Vice Chair

Being a first responder is not for the faint of heart. Every day, you are put to the test – in mind, body, and spirit. You must be willing to sacrifice everything in service of others. First responders are true heroes.

On October 28, we celebrate National First Responders Day and the bravery and dedication of our nation’s heroes.

The law of sacrifice

I have dedicated my career to public safety. From my early days as a patrol officer to my current role as the Director of the City of Alexandria’s Department of Emergency and Customer Communications in Virginia, I have seen and experienced what it means to be a first responder.

I have fielded calls of all types — some routine and ordinary, and others that are devastating and life-altering. Throughout each experience, I have learned that sacrifice is an unwritten rule of being a first responder.

The law of sacrifice requires you to make a decision. You must decide if you're going to act or not act. Will I pull the trigger? Will I run into this burning building? And with each decision comes a significant “what-if” scenario. If I pull the trigger, can I live with my decision? If I run into this building, will I see my family again?

Sometimes you can’t predict your decision until the moment arises. A person usually doesn’t know they’re a hero until the time comes to become a hero.

Data for public safety

First responders face decisions like these every day. And in these moments, situational awareness and access to information can mean the difference between life and death.

Broadband is giving first responders access to the information they need to make informed decisions. For the first time in public safety’s history, first responders are able to access and share data in the field with the help of the nationwide public safety broadband network, FirstNet. They can stream footage from a drone or map the location of responders in the field. They can communicate across agencies and regions using a single system.  

Born out of sacrifice

FirstNet was born from the sacrifices of September 11, when first responders were hampered by siloed and overburdened communications systems. In light of those challenges, the public safety community came together to advocate for a nationwide public safety broadband network.

Today, FirstNet is up and running in every state, territory, and Washington, D.C, with more than 5.3 million connections and nearly 27,000 public safety agencies and organizations using the network.

FirstNet has become an important part of the decision-making process for first responders. Now, with this network, we can be confident that when we call for help, someone will hear us. We know someone will find us, even if we don't know where we are. A first responder’s calculated risk improves with FirstNet.

Gratitude for the heroes

To all the heroes of public safety: thank you. Our nation is grateful for you and your families, on this day and every day.

Renee Gordon has served as the City of Alexandria Department of Emergency and Customer Communications Director since 2015. In addition, she serves as a Commissioner for the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). She began her public safety career as a member of the Prince George's County (MD) Police Department. She currently serves as Vice Chair of the First Responder Network Authority Board.

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