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A letter to the American public: The COVID-19 pandemic national emergency is a call to serve

Every contribution of service matters to helping our country, community, neighborhood and family through this time of crisis and great need


A national emergency is a call to every American to serve.

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

In the days after 9/11, many of us felt the urge to serve our country, community and neighborhood, and we didn’t wait until President George W. Bush declared a national emergency. Bush’s declaration, like President Trump’s declaration on March 13, 2020, declaring the COVID-19 pandemic a national emergency, is about more than unlocking federal funds, reducing regulations or streamlining processes. A national emergency is a call to every American to serve.

Service is a career, and often a calling, for every EMT, paramedic, firefighter, police officer and corrections officer. At Lexipol, home of EMS1, FireRescue1, PoliceOne, Corrections1 and Gov1, our entire team is grateful to the public safety personnel on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are honored and committed to helping the helpers to do their jobs more safely and more effectively by providing them the best information, accurate news and up-to-date training resources that are relevant and actionable.

During this crisis, public safety and healthcare providers need every American to answer the call to serve. The first step Americans of any age can take to serve is to practice social distancing. Together we can slow the spread of the coronavirus by listening to requests from public health officials to minimize our face-to-face connections in our workplaces, houses of worship, restaurants and bars, and other places we gather to work and socialize.

Next, make sure you vigilantly practice infection control practices to wash your hands regularly and catch your cough or sneeze in your elbow. If you are sick, stay home! If you have symptoms of COVID-19, contact a doctor by phone, email or telemedicine visit. Only call 911 or go to the emergency room for severe symptoms and other life-threatening emergencies.

If you are well, able bodied and have the means to do so, here are other ideas to answer the national emergency call to serve. Each of these has tangible value for the recipient and inherent value for the provider of the service.

1. Donate blood, non-perishable food and money

The American Red Cross has an urgent, current need for blood donations. Visit for the latest news on eligibility and to schedule an appointment.

Any organization that provides emergency food, medical care and shelter for at-risk individuals and families in your community is sure to need support in the weeks and months ahead. Check with the organization for items of greatest need or donate cash to give the organization flexibility to meet changing service demands.

2. Volunteer at organizations in your community

As senior centers across the country close or reduce daily meal service, Meals on Wheels America is likely to have an increasing need for delivery drivers, donations and advocates to promote their important mission. Meals on Wheels is more than food delivery. It is important social interaction and a safety check for meal recipients.

Many organizations are dependent on volunteers who are mostly retired older adults. Those volunteers are also at the most risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms and public health officials are strongly advising them to reduce social contact. There is likely an immediate need for young, healthy adults to volunteer at the Humane Society, family crisis center, hospital, faith organizations and other non-profits performing cleaning, support and maintenance tasks that don’t involve customer service or group interaction. Your local United Way or 211 might be a starting point for finding local opportunities.

3. Check on elderly neighbors

I am as unsure as anyone about the best approach to check on my neighbors, while also making sure they have adequate supplies to shelter in place and maximizing social distancing. I think it is a combination of text message or email, a friendly note in the mailbox offering to help, or a knock on the door. You assisting and caring for your neighbors might reduce the need for public safety being called upon for social welfare checks.

4. Acts of kindness, gratitude and prayer

In the days and weeks after 9/11, fire stations were adorned with hand-written letters from school children and every table was covered with baked goods, hot dishes and bottled drinks. Because of the risk of COVID-19 exposure, this is the wrong time to hand-deliver home-cooked meals or non-perishables to the fire station, emergency department staff, or public health office, but your community might be establishing a location to receive donations for distribution in the weeks and months ahead.

It is always a good time to send a letter, draw a picture or make tribute to a public servant, caregiver or healthcare provider. Though it might be weeks before those letters get read, watching them accumulate and knowing they were sent by people who care is morale-boosting for the recipients.

President Trump declared March 15 a National Day of Prayer. Religious leaders are modifying services, live-streaming worship events and creating opportunities for their congregants to pray, complete ceremonies and recognize faith holidays.

5. Return to service

Recently retired public safety personnel and healthcare providers are likely to have opportunities to return to service as a firefighter, EMT, paramedic, police officer, nurse of physician. If you have recently retired, watch for updates in your state about how to return to service in an active duty or auxiliary capacity. Check the department’s website or send email before simply showing up at the station.

If you are nearing retirement or have been considering letting your certification lapse, consider staying on a few more weeks or months if regulations, work rules and your capacity to continue service allow. The National Registry of EMTs has extended its recertification period from March 31 to June 30. Take advantage of this additional time to prevent your hard-earned EMT or paramedic certification from lapsing.

6. Learn to serve

There is never a bad time to learn to first aid, hands-only CPR, how to stop severe bleeding, recognize a stroke and to administer naloxone for an opioid overdose. And now might be a great time. Any of those topics can be learned by watching a few minutes of online videos.

Teenagers and school-aged children can learn or at least be introduced to many of the above skills. For teens, the American Red Cross has an online babysitting course, which is a great learning opportunity for teens unable to attend school during the pandemic.

There are online opportunities for every career field. For example, Coursera offers a Become an EMT specialization with six online courses to prepare students for the EMT certification test.

The need for new recruits for careers in public safety was dire well before the COVID-19 pandemic and is sure to continue when the pandemic wanes. Read these articles to get started and visit the websites of the public safety employers and training programs in your community.

Healthcare job opportunities are abundant and predicted to continue for decades to come. A medical first responder or EMT certification is a great introduction to medical topics and serves as a launching point for many healthcare professionals.

What are your ideas and suggestions to serve?

There are many ways to serve our country, community, neighborhood, workplace and family. No effort is too small because the accumulation of service is what matters most.

We want more ideas. How are you answering the national emergency call to serve? How did you answer the call to serve in the weeks and months after 9/11? What organizations in your community most need support?

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1 and EMS1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on LinkedIn.