Roll Call: First responders are heroes and deserve our thanks

Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel will retire in May after serving the community for 38 years, the last 13 as chief.

You’re probably used to me writing this column to showcase police-related issues and topics. Today, however, I am dedicating the column to all our first responders – police officers, firefighters, paramedics, hospital staff and 911 dispatchers.

Spending my career working in Riverside, I had daily contact with all the many first responder professionals in our community. Anyone who works in suburban policing, no matter what rank, will interact with fire personnel, paramedics and 911 operators, usually on a daily basis. They all play a vital role in protecting the communities they serve. There is no doubt about that.

Today, I want to spotlight ways that I believe you can thank the first responders in the communities where you live. First responders do not seek recognition, accolades or media attention. But they certainly deserve all that and more.

Some of the ways I believe you can thank a first responder on a more general, broad basis is to donate to a good cause – typically some first responder event.

You always can send a letter of thanks to the police chief, fire chief or dispatch center director outlining the excellent service you received from an employee. This expression of gratitude can be significant because all chiefs and directors will take those letters and publicly display them in their lobbies, as well as include them in the employee’s personnel file. Additionally, they are reviewed during promotion time by the commission that evaluates personnel for advancement.

You also could send a gift basket, drop off food or just stop by and say thanks. I can tell you that when I was chief in Riverside during the height of the pandemic, so much food was dropped off at our police agency that it was overwhelming and highly appreciated.

I worked in Riverside for 37 years and we had never experienced as much public outreach with gifts of gratitude to the police officers and firefighters as during this time. Members of the community would bring food in daily – some home-cooked, some bought, some catered directly to the facility, while others baked cookies to give to all the personnel, including our dispatch personnel. These gestures of appreciation were invaluable to all of us.

First responders are front-line warriors, embodying bravery and selflessness. It could be police officers diffusing tense situations, firefighters charging into a blazing inferno or dispatch personnel in 911 centers displaying heroic efforts to send help quickly and professionally. They are all heroes.

Another way I believe you can thank first responders is by posting positive messages on social media accounts, talking to your neighbors and letting them know about your positive interaction with the police, firefighters or 911 operators and showing up at a City Council or Village Board meeting.

When I was chief, I can’t tell you the number of times that residents would come to a board meeting and express their appreciation to the village president, trustees and the village manager about actions that my officers had taken to alleviate a situation, perform a rescue, respond quickly and make an arrest.

So what is the key takeaway here? First and foremost, remember that first responders are everyday, often unsung heroes who are brave and risk dangerous situations to protect us. They are driven by a selfless commitment to serve others, not just to seek job perks.

Even with the increase in challenges in today’s ever-changing public safety climate, first responders remain steadfast in their pursuit of serving communities where they are employed. Let us appreciate these courageous individuals who often go unnoticed but are critical in keeping us safe.

In conclusion, and on a personal note, I will tell you that our first responders are real-life heroes. They step into the unknown, brave danger and protect us all. Their selfless service often means missing personal events or facing daily risks.

But still they serve because making a difference is rewarding to them.

Let us make a difference and reward them with our appreciation. I certainly do.