RAPID CITY, S.D. - Every day you’re in your office, in a classroom or sitting with your family in the living room, they’re the ones out on the streets. Sacrificing time in their own lives. To keep you safe. To serve the public or community. They're our heroes.
So much goes on behind the scenes at every station across town that is unrecognized. Each public emergency responder gives up so much for us and the community they love. Riding along with each department - police, fire, and medic/ambulance - one gains a better understanding and appreciation for what they do in their everyday lives.
"We have to put aside emotion, and keep it light-hearted in order to stay sane. That's not to be confused with being cold," paramedic and apprentice fireman, Dustin Kotzenmacher, reminds us. "We are very compassionate about each patient and situation, but we have to put that emotion aside in order to have a life outside of the job."
How many of you can maintain a healthy family relationship when you give a third of your lives (or more) to the community and public you serve? How many of you could see an injured child, woman, or man writhing in pain or struggling to breathe and jump in to help without any hesitation or emotion?
On top of controlling emotions, emergency responders give a lot of time and dedication to their jobs. For firefighters and EMS, the station essentially becomes a second home. They eat, sleep, and do all of their daily activities (chores included, kids! Even emergency responders have to cook, clean, and make their beds) at the station.
Robert Eddy, Captain at Fire Station Five, says, "We will miss a lot of holidays, kids' birthdays, anniversaries even. The station has become our home away from home, but because we are here for a third of our lives, we try to keep it open for spouses and families."
A lot of the team have part-time jobs as well, Eddy shares.
Each shift for firefighters and medics is 24 hours, or longer if they commit to an overtime shift. Sometimes it might be more than 36 hours before a fireman is able to go home and see his or her family. It might be more than 36 hours before they get to have more than two-three hours of uninterrupted sleep.
In Rapid City, the firefighters and medics share a station and are typically cross-trained. There are two levels to each before you start getting into the officer positions. As a fireman you are either an apprentice or a journeyman. Journeyman is the first "phase" or "level." The medic team is split into paramedics and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). Paramedics can administer medication and provide advanced life support whereas EMTs are only allowed to perform basic medical services (e.g., assess a patient's condition and manage respiratory, cardiac, and trauma emergencies).
For the police department, the ranks and titles work a little differently. There are eight basic municipal ranks, (that’s not including county or state ranks), but the most common is the second rank: police officer/patrol officer. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) these officers respond to both emergency and nonemergency calls.
Officer Ryan Dufour from the Rapid City Police Department shares, "The community relations is the best part of the job; I love it when I can just talk with people downtown who recognize and appreciate what I do or when a young kid walks up asking for a sticker because they know we will have one."
Police officers don't just patrol the streets. They respond to calls concerning weapons, suicide, drugs, assaults, burglaries, and more. When the common person sees these people mixed up with law enforcement, our immediate thoughts jump to "why would someone do that" or "they're a horrible person." We immediately assume the worst; it is part of human nature. However, police officers aren't allowed to make those calls or really judge the persons involved in these situations. They adapt to a certain mindset of ‘who are we to judge?’
"You have to remember that you are seeing people at their worst. We've all made mistakes, so you have to be patient and compassionate when you're dealing with either victims or suspects," Dufour expresses.
Before taking to the streets, the police ensure that all their equipment is updated and in check. Part of their duty is double-checking that their speed radars are calibrated and making certain that the cameras in the car and on the uniform work.
In addition, all emergency responders have to present quick thinking skills in possible dangerous situations. Whether that's a car accident, a dangerous suspect, or someone who might be compromising the health of others, emergency responders have to handle the situation delicately and do what is best for the public regardless of what he/she says. Their duty is to “think now, ask questions later.”
One thing the public forgets is that ultimately, all departments are a team. In one scene, you might see all three departments, and they are all there in the best interest of the victims or persons involved. Even though they give each other a lot of grief and banter back and forth, all departments really are one unified unit. Regardless of whether or not they're a "basement saver" or fan of donuts, they’re all in the same pool.
In today's society, a lot of negative press has put pressure on our heroes, and in a society where everyone is quick to judge and eager to pursue lawsuits, everyone has to protect themselves as well. For every call that a responder goes to, a detailed report is required. Down to the minute. Every time you read an article about police brutality or trash talk concerning our emergency responders, their reputation drops a little. We forget that they’re our heroes, that they’re human. The stories you read are few and far between and responders don’t get the credit they deserve.
Not every day is easy; there are many tough calls that emergency responders go to. Calls including kids, horrible accidents or a fire that was called in too late, calls that don't end the way everyone hopes. These calls take tolls on the individuals who respond.
Next time you see an emergency responder out on the streets, stop and say “thank you,” or go out of your way to bring the nearest fire station supper for a night or a simple dessert (they love ice cream and cake!).
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