Gina Ayres was an inspiration to so many people, and we can all learn from her example. Whenever I was with her, I saw how she put others before herself–from the way she spoke about Tony and her daughters to the extra effort she put into helping those around her. Her humor and laughter were contagious and defused even the tensest of moments.
She worked hard on the front lines, and when she wasn’t on the ambulance, she helped those struggling with severe Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder get the help they needed. It’s hard to capture in words how profoundly we all feel her loss near and far, but it helps to remember that the world is a better place for having had her in it, and her legacy will live on for many years in those whose lives she touched.
She was full of compassion for all kinds of people
She loved her family and friends unconditionally
She was kind to everyone she encountered and didn’t judge
She cared about others and always put them before herself
She made everyone feel welcome regardless of their backgrounds
She devoted her life to service and touched so many in the process
She was a light who made a difference in the lives of countless others
She died in service and will live on for years as an example of altruism
My team and I are endlessly grateful for knowing her and she is already dearly missed.
Thank You to all First Responders
We would like to take this opportunity to show our respect for and gratitude to all of the incredible first responders who put their lives on the line each day to keep Americans safe.
The 4.6 million people serving as firefighters, police, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics in the United States make an indescribable difference to people and communities by providing support when we are at our most vulnerable.
First Responders arrive before anyone else at the scene of an emergency and regularly encounter challenging and dangerous situations. Facing highly stressful emergency situations each day requires resilience, determination, and incredible strength.
It is a demanding yet often underappreciated profession. Those in need of emergency services are frequently unable to communicate their gratitude in moments of crisis, although many return to thank those who helped them through what may have been the most distressing experience of their lives.
There are around 4.6 million first responders in the U.S. who show up every day to fires, accidents, natural disasters, and all kinds of other emergencies. The importance of their work was highlighted to many during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many of us relied on emergency services and others actively tried to limit their engagement in activities that may have required emergency assistance.
What Do First Responders Do?
First responders are essential in any emergency. They arrive first on the scene and provide care that can save lives.
The three sub-groups of first responders are firefighters, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and police officers. The responsibilities of a first responder depend on which of the three sub-groups they belong to.
There are two main aims of all first responders:
1) to stop the emergency from progressing, which may require action such as putting out a house fire or supporting the arrival of other emergency services that are better equipped to respond and 2) to provide emergency medical care to those involved.
All emergency responders, including police officers, are trained in first aid and are required to stop and give CPR to injured civilians. Preserving life is at the heart of first responders’ work, and their work isn’t done until an injured person can be transported to the hospital.
EMTs perform life-saving techniques at the scene of an emergency and attend to patients who are in transit to the hospital. Most people think of EMTs as ambulance workers, but they also respond to emergencies in helicopters as critical care flight paramedics. EMT’s also act as a bridge between the patient and doctors and nurses in the hospital that they are transported to by clearly and accurately providing detailed information on the nature of the situation, the individual’s symptoms, and the care they have provided. This interface between EMTs and hospital workers is critically important in emergency situations so that healthcare professionals can continue providing care.
Firefighters respond to fires, of course, but they also arrive on the scene of car accidents, waste spills, and natural disasters. They are vital in a wide range of emergencies due their expert knowledge of fire and waste. Firefighters also provide up-to-date information on fire safety to ensure that preventative measures are taken both at home and in natural spaces such as forests.
Police officers or law enforcement agents assume a number of roles. They are often the first to arrive on the scene of a crime because, unlike EMTs and firefighters, they drive around communities while on duty. As a result, it is important for police officers to be trained to perform CPR and the first aid required to keep a person alive until medical professionals can intervene.
First responders can also provide assistance and education within communities along with police, firefighters, and EMTs. They often host information sessions and talks on topics such as fire safety, drugs and alcohol, and the importance of CPR training.
First Responder Health
The impact of this high-stress profession on the health and well-being of emergency workers is often underappreciated. Studies show that during the COVID-19 pandemic, first responders were at a higher risk of contracting COVID in addition to a range of other diseases. First responders were also at a higher risk of stigma as a result of their work-related result exposure to COVID-19, which caused stereotypes and judgments that led them to experience anxiety, depression, devaluation, rejection, stress, and health problems and a heightened exposure to risks, including limited protective factors.
Another concern for the well-being of first responders is the impact on their mental health. There is a high risk of stress and burnout in helping professions generally, but emergency workers in particular face higher rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and PTSD.
A study in Australia found that first responders report having suicidal thoughts twice as often as the general population and are over three times more likely to have a suicide plan. Moreover, over half reported experiencing a traumatic event that significantly affected them during their work, with one in four former first responder employees experiencing probable post-traumatic stress disorder.
These concerning trends are mirrored in the US, and it is important that we don’t overlook the health and well-being of those providing essential emergency care. It is stressful, unpredictable, and often thankless work. Today, and every day, when you see an emergency worker, extend thanks for all they do and for the essential support they provide.
 Zolnikov, T.R. and Furio, F. (2020) “Stigma on first responders during COVID-19.,” Stigma and Health, 5(4), pp. 375–379. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1037/sah0000270.
 Kleim, B. and Westphal, M. (2011) “Mental health in first responders: A review and recommendation for prevention and intervention strategies.,” Traumatology, 17(4), pp. 17–24. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/1534765611429079.  Meadley, B. et al. (2020) “The health and well-being of Paramedics – a professional priority,” Occupational Medicine, 70(3), pp. 149–151. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqaa039.