One only has to imagine being a first responder to liken them to heroes and heroines trying and often succeeding at snatching life from the jaws of death. Still, we are mostly unaware of them in our communities or the emotional stress they endure unless we are the victim of some tragic circumstance. They are parents, neighbors, young and single, married and middle-aged residents of all races who drive to work and shop for groceries just like the rest of us. However, these folks are a very special breed.
They come to us during the worst of times. Often, the scene is gruesome and there is precious little they can do but emotionally absorb the trauma of death around them. Just as often, they are the first line of defense, medically and physically guarding the door between life and death.
First responders of different stripes attend to countless injured victims of serious car crashes each year. In 2020 alone, Florida police, paramedics and other first responders administered care at horrific scenes and extracted many of the 3,884 traffic fatality victims from the carnage and wreckage of vehicles. It is first responders who rushed into collapsed buildings, scenes of mass shootings and industrial accidents to give aid and comfort. Later, it was emergency room doctors and nurses who administered care.
This is why, as reported recently in the Hernando Sun, Gov. Ron DeSantis prioritized $400 million in funding for pay increases, bonuses, and investments in the first responders.
It is first responders who experience and witness the brunt of life’s trauma, often while helping others and saving lives. That’s why, along with incentives, the governor prioritized $12 million from that 2022 budget to go for mental health services administered by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to bolster existing prevention and intervention services for first responders and their families.
The danger and brute suffering faced and witnessed daily by first responders extends to hospital emergency rooms, police work, and search and rescue missions like the recent collapse of the 12-story, Surfside Condo building in Miami where 98 people lost their lives and 11 more were injured.
“It was very, very emotional for the folks that were there responding. It wasn’t an easy thing. They poured their heart and soul — and we see it in different aspects of the job. It’s not easy…..causes yes… physical burdens…. you’re putting yourself out,” said an emotional DeSantis during his appearance at the Tampa Firefighters Museum on Dec. 3.
First responders could never be paid enough to soothe the often deeply-rooted angst embedded in post traumatic stress syndrome (PTS). The condition is as real as the events that cause it and can grow to monstrous proportions in first responders exposed to danger, violence, injury, and death over a span of many years. Add to that the defund-police and other anti-police movements that are sweeping across the country and recruiting good people for law enforcement will inevitably become more difficult.
To that end, instead of defunding its police, as many cities and states have done, Florida will include $1,000 bonuses for all law enforcement, firefighters, and EMTs in next year’s budget and a 25% pay increase for Florida law enforcement. To address and prevent shortages of police officers, DeSantis also announced a $5,000 bonus for persons relocating to Florida for a job in law enforcement.
Unlike state and local governments who are defunding and even disrespecting their own police, Florida is moving in the right direction by rewarding its police and first responders for the bravery, passion, and compassion they render under dangerous and trying circumstances.
Mostly, they walk inconspicuously among us as we shop, gather for ball games and holidays, and carry on with life. They might believe or act as though they are nothing special, but they are special. They guard that door between life and death.