We all often hear and read the term “first responder.” Odds are if you are like most people you have a general idea of who constitutes at least some first responders in California and across the United States. As the moniker indicates, a first responder is an individual with specialized training that is among the first to arrive and provide vital assistance at the scene of an emergency. Common types of emergencies to which first responders provide aid and assistance include:

  • Accidents
  • Natural disasters
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Infectious disease outbreaks 

Examples of first responders include:

  • Paramedics
  • Police officers
  • Other types of law enforcement officers
  • Emergency medical technicians
  • Firefighters
  • Rescuers

In order to fully understand who first responders are, you need to have a clearer understanding of the work and tasks undertaken by these professionals. 

Certified First Responders

Professionals who provide first responder services can be certified. A certified first responder is an individual who has undertaken specialized training and received certification (or certifications) in different aspects of emergency services. 

A prime example of the type of training and certification a first responder might receive is pre-hospital care for medical emergencies. Individuals who’ve received this type of certification have more training than an individual trained in basic or essential cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR. These individuals also have more training than people who’ve participated in basic first aid education.

Where Are First Responders Employed?

In the United States, first responders are employed in a number of different ways and in a variety of entities. A significant number of first responders are employed in local communities from coast-to-coast in the country. For example, different types of first responders can be found on the local level in fire departments, medical centers, police and sheriff departments, and through ambulance and paramedic services.

On the state level, first responders can be attached to different types of agencies within the government. In addition, first responders typically are part of a state’s national guard.

The military branches on the national level also include first responders within their ranks. In addition, professionals who assist with emergency services can be found in other federal government agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Transportation Safety Administration, FEMA, and other agencies. 

First responders can also be found within and attached to private sector agencies. These include the American Red Cross.

How First Responders Are Specialized

First responders are not only identified by the agency or organization with which they are attached but also through the specific types of tasks they undertake. For example, some first responders are tasked with engaging in activities like search and rescue operations while others tend to the emergency medical needs of people injured in some sort of catastrophic event. Indeed, there exists a broad spectrum of the individual tasks and activities different types of first responders are called upon to undertake.

Vital Importance of Rapid Response

A key element associated with the work of first responders centers on the vital necessity for rapid response. First responders need to be at the scene to deal with injuries and other issues as quickly as possible. In addition, first responders must be at the scene of an emergency in order to prevent a situation from going bad to worse. 

Ensuring that first responders are at the scene of an emergency or catastrophe quickly depends not only on proper training but also on ensuring that these professionals have access to suitable equipment. This includes proper transport to convey emergency service personnel or emergency responders to a scene promptly. 

Department of Homeland Security and First Responders

Since 9/11, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has become heavily involved in enhancing the services of first responders across the country. This includes improving the safety and effectiveness of first responders. In order to enhance the overall safety and effectiveness of first responders, the Homeland Security Department is focusing on improved technology. This includes taking steps that:

  • Improve communication, including communication effectiveness and security
  • Enhance the overall safety of first responders
  • Enhance information and data sharing
  • Better coordinated joint operations
  • Promote and sustain strong partnerships between different responder organizations at all levels
  • Secure 911 emergency systems and similar types of protocols from cyberattack

What First Responders Don’t Do

In understanding who are first responders, understanding what these professionals do not do is important. Thus far, we’ve discussed some of the prime areas in which first responders provide services. There are two primary areas associated with a catastrophic event or another type of emergency in which first responders have a role.

First, first responders are not part of an investigatory process arising from some sort of emergency situation. That is the role of law enforcement and sometimes the coroner’s office. 

Second, first responders are not involved in biohazard cleanup or any other type of remediation following an emergency event. There are professional biohazard cleanup companies responsible for this type of remediation.