Origin story: National First Responders Day

A six-year push for the day of appreciation, inspired by heroism and tragedy, culminated in the designation of Oct. 28 to honor first responders


In 2019, a bipartisan group of senators successfully passed legislation to officially mark Oct. 28 as National First Responders Day, a day to honor the service and sacrifice of those answering the call in their communities.

While there are several days dedicated exclusively to the appreciation of EMS providers, firefighters and law enforcement, National First Responders Day honors the collective work of all public safety professionals. 

Though there had been sporadic calls throughout the years for a specific day honoring first responders, it took a tragedy and the efforts of a grieving community to put the resolution in successful motion. 

An act of brotherly love

The unofficial origin of National First Responders Day can be traced to the death of 26-year-old police officer Sean Collier, who was shot and killed by the two men responsible for the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing

In the wake of Collier’s death, his brother, Andrew, began advocating for the creation of a national day to honor all first responders.

“This is the next step,” Andrew told the Boston Herald in 2016. “On Memorial Day after Sean died, I noted how we, rightfully, honor our veterans. Our first responders are our front line here at home. We deal with them every day. They save lives and take care of us. It’s a huge safety net. It makes the most sense to honor and show them the support they really deserve.”

Andrew continued to advocate for the day of appreciation, garnering media attention and the support of national organizations and spurring hundreds of thousands to sign petitions for the proposal. 

Ultimately, Andrew's goal to honor his brother's sacrifice and the service of first responders across the country succeeded. 

Legislative hurdles to National First Responders Day

Although a resolution to commemorate Oct. 28 as a day to honor first responders passed in the U.S. Senate in 2017, the bill stalled in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Then in 2019, more than six years after Collier’s death, National First Responders Day became a reality. A bipartisan resolution spearheaded by Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) passed in the Senate. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) sponsored the bill that passed in the U.S. House.

"First responders put their lives on the line to keep us safe. That's why it's up to every single one of us to honor their service and their sacrifices," Sen. Warren said in a press release. "I'm glad the Senate passed our bipartisan resolution to recognize first responders, and I hope Americans view every day as an opportunity to celebrate the courage and strength of these exceptional public servants in our communities."

communities commemorating the day

Many community leaders, in coordination with local companies and national chains, are working to show their appreciation for the men and women who choose to put on the uniform, day in and day out, in service of the citizenry. 

Some companies are offering discounts on products and services for first responders leading up to National First Responders Day. Check out our full list here

Local restaurants in some areas are planning to provide food, snacks and other treats to first responders in their towns, and news organizations may ask to do a deep dive on what life is like for local public safety professionals. 

How is your organization planning to commemorate National First Responders Day this year?

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