This Thanksgiving, we should remember the tens of thousands of first responders who keep us safe


It’s the time of year where we take a day to reflect on all we have to be thankful for in this country, and there is a lot. We have streets that are paved, toilets that flush, and lights that come on when you flip a switch. I’ve been to many places in the world where that is not the case.

Poverty, corruption, political instability, and crime are the norm in many areas of the world. That being said, we need to be thankful for the nearly one million first responders we have hitting the streets every day to keep us safe.

Captain Hoff of the City of Orange Fire Department sprays water on the local brush as a vegetation fire that broke out in the Brea Dam Recreation Area, threatening homes in the area.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

That has been very evident this last year as our first responders have performed heroically in a number of incidents. From the recent shooting rampages in Thousand Oaks and Chicago, to the fires scorching across California, the response of emergency services has been exceptional.

Sadly, in many areas of the world that is not the case. Poor selection and training of police personnel in much of the world has resulted in Keystone Cops and more fear than trust. Fire services in parts of the world suffer from a lack of training and equipment to adequately do their jobs.

In the United States, when you call 911 someone will answer the phone. Someone will respond and, in an actual emergency, we can expect an exceptional response. We’ve seen that this year as officers and fire personnel responded to shootings at the Borderline Bar & Grill and the Tree of Life Synagogue. Tragically, these are only two incidents in a year where four of the biggest mass shootings in five decades have occurred.

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, 130 officers have died in the line of duty this year. The U.S. Fire Administration says 79 firefighters have died in the line of duty in 2018. This in no way reflects the number of first responders who have been injured, some critically, responding to calls for help. No one has accurate data, but you can imagine the numbers are high.

Fullerton Firefighter/Medic Mike Lemmon and Brea Engineer/Medic Bill Schaefer, right, check for vital signs before removing Placentia Officer Joe Gillis on a stretcher from a simulation during North County SWAT drills in Irvine.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Today, on Thanksgiving, tens of thousands of first responders will be giving up time with family and friends in order to serve an oftentimes ungrateful public. They will be responding to family fights, traffic accidents, and maybe even keep the peace calls at malls as the holiday season gets its start.

Police in the United States aren’t perfect. None are anywhere in the world. But we can be thankful for their service and the risks they take in keeping us all safe.

Joe is a retired police captain. You can reach him at