What is meant by a first responder?
We hear much about first responders these days. The term was probably coined long before 9/11, but it has since
become familiar vocabulary to all. It generally refers to policemen, firemen and other emergency workers.
Disasters and other emergencies are seldom expected. It takes a while for emergency workers to get into place.
After a catastrophe, people start asking, "Where are the first responders?" They may even get angry if they
don't appear on the scene fast enough.
In reality, however, policemen, firemen and emergency workers are almost always "secondary responders." They hold
official positions, either paid or voluntary. They wait for orders before moving into action. Before that can
happen, someone or more often several people must witness, assess and report the incident to a proper authority.
Anyone making a 911 call will be asked a number of questions before anything happens. Only after the emergency
can be verified or at least the likelihood of an emergency situation is ascertained, will orders be given to
Airline Captain, Chesley Sullenberger III, gained international fame when he successfully ditched US Airways
Flight 1549 on the Hudson River near Manhattan in 2009. Captain Sullenberger is given credit for the survival
of his crew and 155 passengers, but nobody would call him a first responder. How many pilots have avoided
hitting a flock of geese by expert maneuvering that we never heard of? Their correct reaction to a crisis
situation may have avoided disaster, but they are considered neither heroes nor first responders.
On that fateful 9/11 a hijacked airliner crashed near Pittsburgh, PA and all on board died, but there was a
first responder on that plane. A Christian who acted promptly with no concern for his own safety. He and a few
others who were motivated by his courage were able to overpower the terrorists and prevent them from
accomplishing their goal of crashing the plane into the Capitol or White House.
In 1999, Serbs attacked Kosovo with the intent of annihilating the people. They burned cities and villages,
raped the women, tortured and killed the men in what is called "ethnic cleansing." Over a million Kosovo
refugees fled for their lives to neighboring countries, half of them sought refuge in the border city of
Kukes, Albania. Most of these refugees were Muslims, but the local mosque was locked up to keep out refugees.
Many were starved, injured or sick and no one wanted anything to do with them. It took weeks for large relief
organizations like the Red Cross to arrive, but a group of young Christians in Kukes, mostly converted Muslims,
became "first responders." They quickly sized up the situation, organized a field kitchen and headed for the
border where they greeted refugees with hot soup. By the time the big relief organizations began to function,
this handful of Christians had already saved many lives, set up camps and administered the most urgent aid.
Even after the large organizations started to assume this responsibility, the Christians had a well-organized
operation in the church’s kitchen, filling thousands of baby bottles a day with formula for infants.
True first responders don't just talk about what someone else should do. They don't wait for orders, but
quickly assess the situation, decide on a plan of action and follow through.
We once had a drama presentation in our youth center in Austria. A spokesperson placed a chair in center
stage, explaining that the chair represented the ledge of a high building. One of the actors climbed up
on the chair and said that he was tired of living and wanted to jump and end his life. Other actors used
different arguments to try to dissuade him from jumping with no success. The spokesperson then asked the
audience if someone wanted to try to convince the guy not to jump. Several went up and tried different
arguments with no success. Finally, a big, husky girl who was there for the first time went forward,
grabbed his arm and yanked him off the chair! She could be called a first responder!
Ralph V Harvey