Six photos of first responders: a headshot of a woman, a man running with a dog, a firefighter inside a firehouse, a firefighter in front of a fire truck, a woman kneeling with two dogs, and a man in a police uniform.

Honoring the Nation's First Responders

This blog is a repost from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s blog, originally published on October 28, 2020. The original article can be accessed here.

Every day, first responders across the country put their lives on the line to keep Americans safe. An estimated 4.6 million people serve as career and volunteer firefighters, police, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics in the United States. Their daily jobs come with extraordinary challenges that they face with bravery and dedication.

America’s first responders are at the heart of the FirstNet Authority’s mission. The FirstNet Authority is an independent authority within the United States Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration that oversees a communications network called FirstNet dedicated to the public safety community.

Built for public safety by public safety

The FirstNet Authority works hand-in-hand with public safety in every discipline. They partner with first responders in each of the 50 U.S. states, five territories, and the District of Columbia to make sure public safety’s voice is represented in the buildout and evolution of the FirstNet network.

Many FirstNet Authority staff are either current or former public safety officials. Collectively, they have deep experience in all public safety disciplines.

That others may live

Jen Harder is the FirstNet Authority’s Director of Roadmap Domains. She leads a team of people focused on pursuing innovations and enhancements for the FirstNet network in all six identified FirstNet Authority Roadmap domains.

Before joining the FirstNet Authority, Jen was a police telecommunicator for the Broomfield Police Department in Colorado. Later she served for twelve years as a volunteer in the search and rescue canine unit of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. One of her proudest moments was working with her first search dog, Foley, to locate a twelve-year-old boy and reunite him with his mother. 

Jen said, “Search and rescue teams live by the credo ‘that others may live,’ a sentiment shared and embodied by first responders across the country.”

Thirty-year law enforcement veteran

Harry Markley is the FirstNet Authority’s senior public safety advisor for law enforcement for all 56 states and territories. Harry and a team of FirstNet Authority staff with experience in law enforcement work on communication issues important to policing. 

Harry has more than 31 years of public service with the Phoenix Police Department. During his career, he worked in patrol, training, and narcotics, as a laboratory administrator, and commander of two precincts, the police academy, and the SWAT team.

Harry said, “Through it all, I’m most proud of the time I spent as a young beat cop. I was able to make a difference as boots on the ground in the community where I grew up and still live. Now I get to continue my public service at the FirstNet Authority.”

Fighting fires in his spare time

Zachary Smith is a public safety program manager at the FirstNet Authority where he serves as a subject matter expert on the FirstNet deployables program.

Zach is also a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician with the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department in Virginia. He works with other volunteers from diverse professions including teachers, accountants, program managers, computer developers, and even a helicopter pilot. Despite these differences, they share a common objective: helping those in need.

Zach said, “When the call comes in, our busy lives are paused and we turn our attention to helping strangers in need. Volunteering has made my life better, and I hope it has made others’ lives better as well.”

A family tradition of volunteerism

Michael Varney is a senior manager of stakeholder collaboration at the FirstNet Authority. He leads a team that collaborates and engages with the public safety community throughout the country. 

Mike has volunteered in his community in Ellington, Connecticut since high school. In 35 years, he has served many roles ranging from emergency medical technician to firefighter to chief of the fire department.

Mike said, “My parents instilled a strong sense of community in me by volunteering in the community and local fire department, a family tradition which has also been continued by my children. When you can make a difference in someone’s life, especially on one of their worst days—that’s why I volunteer.”

Canine search and rescue volunteer   

Travis Hull is the lead for user experience at the FirstNet Authority, focusing on how FirstNet users interact with the network including through devices and applications.

Travis and his Australian shepherd, Cody, volunteer as first responders with a canine search and rescue team. Over the years they have deployed on searches that brought missing children, elderly people, and lost hikers home to their loved ones. Travis, once a scuba instructor, also volunteers with an underwater search and rescue team.

Travis said, "The teams I work with help people when they need it most. Search and rescue teams are ready to go at any hour of the day and in any condition because it may make a major impact on someone's life." 

Innovative ways to better serve the public

Kristi Wilde is a senior public safety advisor who works with public safety officials in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. She also serves on the FirstNet Authority’s emergency communications center working group in support of 9-1-1 issues.

Before the FirstNet Authority, Kristi worked more than three decades at a 9-1-1 center in Eugene, Oregon where she collaborated on projects related to 9-1-1 communications, emergency planning, and multi-agency coordination. Kristi also served ten years on the state interoperability executive council to advance interoperable communications.

Kristi said, “Finding innovative ways to better serve the public and improve the safety of first responders—these two things have always been important to me. I get to continue both at the FirstNet Authority.”

Thank you to all our Nation’s first responders

FirstNet Authority employees are dedicated to saving lives and protecting communities. Our Nation owes a debt of gratitude to first responders for their bravery and selflessness. We celebrate them today on Honoring the Nation's First Responders Day, and we appreciate their service every day of the year.

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