Reflections on First Responders

Published 10:44 am Friday, September 30, 2016

by Michael Johnson

I recently saw a survey that asked Americans whom they trust and respect the most. After their own families, the group that the people of America most often name is first responders. Having had the privilege of serving as Southampton County’s administrator and ex officio Director of Emergency Services for more than two decades, I couldn’t agree more.

Their commitment is nothing short of phenomenal. Before they can run their first call, these dedicated men and women spend weeks and months in the classroom just preparing to serve. Basic EMT training now requires a minimum of 144 hours of classroom and skills instruction with an additional 10 hours of clinical/field rotations. A Firefighter 1 certification requires 115 hours of training. And a law enforcement officer must complete a 12-week certification course followed by another 100 hours of field training, all before they respond to the first call.

In calendar year 2015, Southampton County residents dialed 9-1-1 more than 7,500 times. That’s more than 20 times each and every day of the year that somebody in Southampton County needs help. Those calls are answered by a team of dedicated, well trained professionals in the Southampton County Communications Center, who work in virtual anonymity behind the scenes to make sure that the help that’s needed is on its way within minutes of our calls. In response to those 7,500 emergency calls last year, rescue squads were dispatched by the Communications staff more than 1,800 times, fire companies were paged out on another 944 occasions, and law enforcement responded to almost 5,000 calls for emergency assistance. From Adams Grove to Hunterdale, Proctor’s Bridge to Little Texas, Battle’s Beach to Dory, and all areas in between, Southampton County’s dispatchers and first responders are here for us when we need them the most.

Over the last 30 years, I’ve personally observed bravery and valor by first responders hundreds of times. Bravery isn’t necessarily limited to heroic acts. Bravery begins when one joins their respective squad or department, and is repeated every time they answer the call of duty, leaving the peace and comfort of their own homes and families at all hours of day and night.

Yes, I’ve seen bravery. I’ve seen bravery in the faces of dispatchers working around the clock, fielding calls from concerned citizens, monitoring power outages, and maintaining radio communications with first responders. I’ve seen bravery in the faces of Deputy Sheriffs working 12-hour shifts during the height of hurricanes, braving the wind and the rain, running chainsaws trying to keep roadways passable for emergency vehicles. I’ve seen bravery in the faces of volunteer firefighters responding to train derailments, hazardous materials incidents and peanut warehouse fires. I’ve seen bravery in the hands of EMT’s and Paramedics using the Jaws of Life to extract victims of automobile accidents and stabilize them for transport.

To the readers of this article, I hope you’ll join me in saying thank you to the dozens of dispatchers and first responders that serve our communities. Thank them for their calm assurance and rock-steady focus when answering our calls. Thank them for every hour they spend in the classroom learning the latest in patient assessment and airway management, effective fire suppression techniques, appropriate understanding of use of force, and the ins-and-outs of the Incident Management System. Thank them for taking pride in their community when they show up for station duty or attend the monthly business meeting. Thank them for every quart of brunswick stew that they sell and every pound of barbeque they cook so that our communities might sleep a little better at night. Thank them for responding so quickly to our brush and structure fires and our automobile accidents. Thank them for answering the calls from our parents and grandparents when they have difficulty breathing, or from our sons and daughters when their bones have been broken on the playground or athletic field. Thank them for maintaining law and order, protecting life and property, and reducing the fear of crime in our community. Thank them for working around the clock to reduce the flow of illegal drugs into our communities. Thank them for leaving their warm bed on a frigid January night or their air-conditioned den on a sweltering July afternoon when the pager goes off. Thank them for being willing to give us all they’ve got, even putting their own life on the line, and never once asking for anything in return.

America longs for role models. I know a bunch of them. We needn’t look farther than our own Sheriff’s Office and every volunteer fire department and rescue squad building across Southampton County.   The men and women you’ll find there are shining examples for the next generation, demonstrating day-in and day-out, the nobility of serving something greater than ourselves.

MICHAEL JOHNSON is County Administrator for Southampton County. He can be reached at