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1st Responders Real Heros

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On the morning of 9/11 firefighters and police officers went to their station houses. It was just another day of work. But it wasn’t. They were called in to help the countless victims trapped inside the Twin Towers. When I think about September 11th, and the days that followed, I can still hear the whistling sound of the firefighters and police officers that were trapped in the buildings trying to save lives. There were 350 firefighters and 60 policemen who gave their lives during that day and the many days that followed.



In May of 2008, friends Jerry Hoberman and Ray Somberg were having lunch and the topic of 9/11 came up. When tragedies like 9/11 happen, people are very appreciative of the police, fire, and paramedics. Then, as time goes by they are once again taken for granted. Hoberman and Somberg decided to create a Firefighter & Police Appreciation Day on June 10th to honor these local heroes that protect and serve in our own community.

Hoberman says, “Our objective is to let every firefighter and police officer know how much we appreciate their dedication to our safety and appreciate the sacrifices they make.” Hoberman and Somberg are hoping that this will become a national holiday in the next 3 to 5 years. And why not?  We have Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, it makes sense to honor our local heroes with a special day.

The event will kick off at 7:30 am with Operation Lantern where 240 volunteers will hold signs at intersections to get cars to honk and flash their lights to honor the fire and police forces. Mayor Suttle is holding a press conference afterwards. There will be a luncheon at the Qwest Center recognizing the firefighters and police. Tickets are still available for this event and range from $100 to $500 per seat with the proceeds going to purchase critically needed equipment for the fire and police departments. During that period, lunch will also be delivered to 24 fire stations, 4 police precincts, Fire and Police Headquarters, and the training center. From 1:30-3:30 pm there will be a variety of demonstrations in the Qwest Center parking lot; and this exceptional demonstration is open to the public. At the end of the night a special event will be held for police and firefighters and their families only, which will celebrate and honor them.

Hoberman and Somberg set up a 501c3 to raise funds. Already the group has made $600,000 which allowed them to purchase necessary equipment for the police and fire. The Police Department received a skid car that helps train police officers to drive in tough driving conditions. Lieutenant Darcy Tierney says this is “just another way that officers can be prepared.” Between 1999 and 2003, car collisions were the number one killer of police officers. Officers need to be able to navigate in high speed chases or bad weather conditions.

The Fire Department received 250 SEMS 2 PASS devices which is an electronic accountability system. These monitors are attached to the firefighters and have alarms that go off if a man is down for more than thirty seconds. Remember the high pitched whistle sound you heard when you watched September 11th video footage?  Those were firefighters down. The new SEMS 2 equipment lets the Incident Commander know who is in trouble. It also is a two-way system that allows the commander to send a signal to evacuate. In addition, the equipment also can allow the commander to do a roll call of the firefighters on the fire ground to allow everyone to be accounted for. “If you make us safer, the citizens are also safer, “says Assistant Chief Stolinski. Assistant Chief Stolinski is humbled by the event. He says it is a collective ‘thank you’ from all of the citizens of Omaha. “The thank you makes it all worth it. We see all kinds of horrific things that you can’t erase from your mind, “says Stolinski who comes from a long line of firemen and police officers. He wanted to dedicate his life to helping people.

Lieutenant Tierney took criminal justice classes and decided she wanted an exciting job with opportunities. The part that she likes best about her job is helping people. She is excited to see that “the city of Omaha has embraced this event. She is honored that people are willing to put their time and money towards this event.”

Life for police and firefighters is tough. The hours are long. They are often on call at all hours. Their families have to sacrifice a great deal. They are placed in a position where they must rely on family and friends.

Then there are the hard things that they have to witness and handle. Tierney recalls a time when she went on a call where a woman had been stabbed to death by her husband. When they arrived on the scene there were four small children that had watched this happen. On top of seeing their mother killed, the children’s dad was taken away too. “These are the tough times, “says Tierney. Stolinski has also had many tough calls, like the time he was sent on a call where a five year old had been hit by a car on Thanksgiving Day, and unfortunately  died later at trauma. He also had to respond to an eight year old girl that had choked on popcorn and died. “The incidents with kids are the hardest, “says Stolinski. He says the suicides are also really tough to respond to.

What is the best way to help the police do their jobs? Tierney says that “we should let the police know when there is criminal activity. Report illegal activity especially if it involves violence. Get involved with your kids lives.” Doing these things will help the police do their jobs and protect us all better.

How can you help prepare for a fire? Stolinski says to teach your kids about fire safety and decide on a meeting place outside. Tell firefighters about hazards they might find in your home. Don’t put out the fire yourself. Make sure your home has working smoke detectors. Make sure you give good information to 911 when you call, and stay calm.

If you want to help with the Firefighter and Police Appreciation Day there is still lots you can do. They are still looking for volunteers to hold signs at 60 major intersections prompting drivers to honk their horns to thank the fire and police officers. You can also go to www.fireandpoliceappreciation.com to purchase tickets to the luncheon or to make a tax deductible donation.

-end- metroMAGAZINE

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