Our Public Protectors

February 23rd, 2011
Photo © Arturo Limon | Dreamstime.com

Support for First Responders

In December 2010, comedian Jon Stewart dedicated an entire episode of his satirical news program, The Daily Show, to promote passage of a bill giving health benefits to the first responders who worked at ground zero after the attack on September 11, 2001. The bill had been lingering in Congress and seemed to be nearly dead, according to a report on National Public Radio (NPR). “These guys are dying,” Stewart said, “And yet we are abandoning them.”

According to NPR, Stewart’s public support “nudged [the bill] over the finish line.” The bill passed Congress. On January 27, 2011, the Associated Press reported that Stewart was joining the National September 11 Memorial and Museum board. Championing the bill and joining the board demonstrate Stewart’s concern and support for those who risk their lives to protect us.

While Christians proclaim God as the ultimate source of our security, well-being, and salvation, every day we rely on public servants to “be there” when we need them. When we are victims of crimes, accidents, weather disasters, fires, or medical emergencies, they are the trained people who assist us. Law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics, and others often risk their lives in order to protect us, to rescue us, or to provide for our well-being. We may not have the same influence as celebrities such as Jon Stewart, but we can open our minds and hearts to appreciate and support those who protect us every day.

Risk, Hazard, and Stress

The task of protecting others routinely places police, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders in situations that involve risk and stress. What are the risks? How do they manage the stress?

The rates of on-the-job injuries and illness are high for police officers and detectives. The dangers of confrontations, the continual vigilance required, and the many times an officer must witness injuries and death all take a toll.

Bob Moore, a friend of mine, is a retired police officer. In an e-mail message, he told me that “dealing with the criminal element is not only a dangerous part of the job, it has changed over time.” He talked about the difficulty of witnessing the effects of crimes such as murder, rape, molestation, and theft. Over the years, he has witnessed “less and less respect for human life.” He says that, unfortunately, “police officers rarely ask for help.” Moore believes that “this is one of the primary reasons that the police profession has one of the highest [rates of divorce, suicide, and alcoholism] of any profession.” On the other hand, “officers care for each other like nothing I have ever seen in any other profession.When one is killed in the line of duty, hundreds to thousands of officers will come out and pay respects.”

After Moore was shot in the line of duty, he retired and found help for his stress. He also attended a Bible study group at our church. He believes that attending church and becoming involved in small groups help police officers. “Through these small groups they can add an important cog in their ‘support system machine.’ And what would be good is that this cog will be ‘outside’ of their police circle. . . . Officers need to have ‘diverse’ lives.”

Firefighters, too, have hazardous jobs. Firefighting exposes them to smoke and flames, traffic accidents, structures caving in, and hazardous materials. Hypertension and heart disease caused by job stress are also serious risks to their health. Firefighters wear heavy protective gear in all weather and carry heavy loads of equipment in dangerous environments. “You leave a little piece of yourself behind at every fire you go to,” says Captain Mark Hoffman in Life of a Firefighter. “Maybe you twist your ankle. Maybe you breathe a little smoke. Maybe you see some horrific fire fatality. Every fire you go to, you’re beating yourself up, or hurting yourself, diminishing yourself in the long run.”

Among the risks faced by paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are the possibility of contracting illnesses––including hepatitis and AIDS––while treating patients, receiving injuries related to kneeling and lifting, and experiencing hearing loss from being close to loud sirens. The stress of dealing with crisis situations can take a toll.

In Advances in Exposure Prevention, Ginger Parker notes that “the paramedic’s unique turf is the back of the ambulance, the roadway, the factory floor, the home, or the lake. . . . Their working environment is often dirty, poorly lighted or exposed to the elements. . . . They are exposed to dangers at the scene such as oncoming traffic or hostile onlookers.” A paramedic also risks coming in contact with blood and other bodily fluids that may be contaminated, as well as being stuck by needles while the ambulance is rapidly traveling over winding or bumpy roads.

Rigorous Training

Those who protect us go through rigorous training in order to do their jobs. Such training is necessary for their safety and efficiency as well as for ours. Their years of training also demonstrate their devotion and commitment to the task of keeping us safe.

The requirements for becoming a police officer include a high school diploma, no criminal record, mental and physical fitness, US citizenship, and acceptance into a police academy. Candidates must undergo a background check. Some departments may require them to have college coursework or a college degree as well. They must pass a polygraph exam and a physical exam.

Once they have been accepted to the academy, the recruits’ training includes 12–14 months studying self-defense, weapons use, accident investigation, state laws, civil rights, and traffic control. After graduation from the academy, officers receive further examination and training during a rookie year (probationary period).

Other areas of law enforcement have additional requirements. A bachelor’s or master’s degree in criminal justice is required before becoming an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), in addition to a couple of years work experience prior to application for training. Once an applicant applies for training, he or she undergoes more tests. After passing the tests, the trainee receives 17 weeks of training at the FBI academy in Quantico, Virginia. A position with Homeland Security also requires a bachelor’s degree; a master’s degree; and advanced training in disaster management, facilities security, anti-terrorism, hazardous materials, and other areas of knowledge required in this field of law enforcement.

Applicants for firefighting positions must have a high school diploma, although some departments also look for college courses or an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree. Training includes fire prevention, firefighting procedures, building codes, emergency medical training such as CPR and first aid, and use of equipment. Applicants also take written tests, physical fitness tests, and medical exams. In addition, firefighters need courage, endurance, good judgment, and an ability to work and live together.

Training for EMTs and paramedics focuses on pre-hospital care for patients and whether the necessary treatment is basic or intermediate. EMTs differ from paramedics in that the latter give more extensive care prior to transport to the hospital, including administrating the intake of medications, performing procedures such as endotracheal intubations, and interpreting EKGs. These professions also require a high school diploma and advanced training in patient care, emergency care, and equipment use. Paramedics need even more advanced training in medicine. EMTs as well as paramedics must be licensed, and requirements vary from state to state.

Salvation and Caring for Others

Being saved and protected finds biblical expression in the words translated as “salvation” (Hebrew, yeshu’ah; Greek, soteria). The words actually have broad meanings. God is concerned with our well-being and wholeness, which include deliverance from sin and evil; but God also wants us to have a good life, especially those in need. Our public protectors provide real, day-by-day actions so that we might live a good life.

Bob Moore says that most police officers understand the meaning of the words honor and duty. He says that “if most of the world understood and followed the Ten Commandments like most officers live the words honor and duty, the world would be a much different place.”

We may not think much about public protectors and first responders until we are caught driving too fast or when we pull over on the street to allow emergency vehicles to pass. Although we do not have their calling, training, and experience, their devotion and integrity provide inspiration for our everyday lives. We can respect, support, and thank them; and we can think about and put into practice ways of caring for and protecting one another.

Be sure to check out FaithLink, a weekly downloadable discussion guide for classes and small groups. FaithLink motivates Christians to consider their personal views on important contemporary issues, and it also encourages them to act on their beliefs. The complete study guide accompanying this article can be purchased here.

Photo Credit: Arturo Limon | Dreamstime.com

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