Three great ways to thank first responders (plus a suggestion)

It’s been a heck of a week to be a first responder.

We started off Monday with a horrible school bus wreck that Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher described as “Every first responder’s worst nightmare,” and the next day we were confounded by the shooting death of yet another police officer, Wayne State University Officer Collin Rose, on Tuesday. On Thursday, while most of America was (we hope) relaxing for Thanksgiving with their families, our local Johnson County (KS) Sheriff tweeted this reminder:

For my late-week posts this month I’ve been focusing on ways to say thank you to and for various things. With both the holidays and the coldest-weather months coming up in North America, it seems to me that the least I can do to focus this week on good, practical, creative ways to thank our first responders. 

First responders are law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel (don’t forget the dispatchers!) who work all hours, in all weathers, holiday or not, to provide the rest of us with emergency services whenever and wherever we need them.

How can we adequately thank them? We probably can’t. But there are ways that members of a grateful community can express their gratitude–ways that really do help.  


I asked around and checked various sources online–but probably the most interesting and helpful source I found was a friend and fellow writer, Dora Furlong (have you read her book?). She is discharged Air Force, a former EMT, former administrative head of a police department, and the wife of a fire captain/Paramedic. If anybody knows really meaningful ways that community members can thank their local first responders, it’s Dora! Here’s her advice:

1. Ditch the junk food! 

cheese-meat-and-crackers“Everybody brings cookies and tins of popcorn,” she said. “What they’d really like are veggie trays!” She also suggested food gifts of: fruit; crackers, cheese and/or salami; bread; or sandwich trays.

Consider coordinating with a local fire station, police station, etc. to provide a meal. If that’s more than you can do alone, perhaps you could recruit help from like-minded folk from your church, yoga class, or workplace.

If it’s not anonymous, a big pot of soup or other homemade food items would be welcome (call ahead).

Gift cards for places such as Subway, Jimmy John’s, or Panera (what’s local to you?) also can be a great help for a hungry first responder with little time for a meal.

2. Think small and practical 

zebrapensThere are lots of little things that make life easier for an emergency responder. Please note that I have linked many of these items to websites. This is not an endorsement, but to illustrate what I’m talking about.

With cold weather coming on, consider handand foot-warmers. There are also warming or cooling wraps of various types that can help in weather extremes. Dora knew of someone who made knitted caps for a fire crew, but of course you can buy those, too!

Yes, it’s the digital age, but all first responders still need pens and pads of paper. Dora tells me that Zebra pens are small, easy to carry and you can get refills easily. They’re always in demand. As for pads, get the pocket-size with the top spiral (much easier to use than a side-spiral), especially for cops or members of an ambulance crew. 

police-flashlightsAnd yes, pretty much all cops carry a large flashlight, but Dora tells me you’d be amazed how often those small, intense flashlights come in handy, to use in addition to their bigger brothers. Having several on hand can be a real boon–and not only for cops.

Oh, yes! Don’t forget the batteries! All kinds of things (not only flashlights) use AA batteries.

Update! Dora gave me a new idea, which I share in my post Another way to thank a first responderon 1/10/2017.

Finally, if your police department has a bike patrol and you live in a warm-weather area (or have hot summers and need an idea for the future), consider water bottles that snap to the frame of the bike.

3. Put it in writing 

There’s nothing quite as great as getting a written “Thank you” for something you did. Sometimes people say “thanks” to first responders–but much more often these folks see a worse side of humanity. Sometimes the people they help can’t physically speak their thanks.

We can, though.

We can buy or make a card, or write a letter. Remember the old saying, “if it isn’t documented, it never happened.” As a teacher, I know I’m not the only one who still has cherished thank-you notes from years ago–and first responders are no different. Don’t know what to write? here’s a suggestion.

Tell them why you are thanking them. Be specific. Maybe it’s a personal experience. Maybe it’s something you saw in the news. Maybe it’s a particular time of the year you know is probably difficult for them. Maybe you just “took a notion.” Whatever the reason, it’s a good way to introduce the subject.

Tell them how you appreciate what they did or do, what a difference they make in the community. Thank their families, too, for the stress they endure. And close with best wishes for their safety, because what they do is all too often frightening, stressful, and sometimes downright deadly. They see people on what might be the worst day of their lives, and sometimes other people’s nightmares turn into their own, too.

4. If you’re so inclined, pray for them 

This is my “(plus a suggestion),” because I know not everyone believes in prayer. I do, however, and whenever I see an ambulance, fire vehicle or or police car, I pray a variation on this prayer:

Dear God, thank you for (that officer’s/those firefighters’/those Paramedics’) life (lives) and service. Please bless and keep (him/her/them), grant (them) strength, wisdom, discernment, and favor. Bless the work of their hands, Lord, and place a hedge of protection around (them), to keep (them) safe on (their) watch. Bring (them) home safely to (their) family (families), and shower blessings into (their) life (lives). 

It’s probably the way I thank my local first responders the most (I’ve prayed that prayer as many as a half-dozen times on a busy day), though they never know it. I can’t keep the bad guys’ bullets (a moment of silence, please, for Det. Brad Lancaster and Capt. Robert David Melton), the collapsing walls (a moment of silence for John Mesh and Larry Leggio), or the job stress away, but I can pray for their strength and beseech their protection. And I can thank God for them.

So can we all.


IMAGES: Many thanks to the Johnson County Sheriff via Twitter (@JOCOSHERIFF) for the Thanksgiving-in-a-cop-car photo (sorry, I was unable to find @EnoughLODD). The “For your service and protection” image is courtesy of Vacation Myrtle Beach (on a page where they offer first responders a $10 off coupon). The amazing cheese, meat and crackers tray is from Pinterest, via their Cheese and Cracker Tray pinboard. The multi-pak of Zebra pens (one of many varieties the company sells) is from Jet. The photo of little “police flashlights” is from Deal Extreme. And many thanks also to Geralt and Pixabay for the “Thank You” pen image.

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jansgephardt

Kansas City-based Jan S. Gephardt is a writer, artist, and teacher. She makes nationally-recognized paper sculpture and writes sf mystery novels about a sapient police dog.

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