What Is The Role Of A First Responder?

If you are looking for a career in emergency services, then the role of a first responder may crop up on your radar - but what exactly is a first responder and what does it even mean?

Before you step into any kind of job or role, you’ll want to know the ins and outs so you can be aware of what to expect. Getting a sense of what the role entails will help you figure out if you have the right qualities and traits needed to be a good first responder.

Here is all the information you need to know about the duties that come with being a first responder, and what training requirements you may need to have first before you can start this new career. 

What Is The Role Of A First Responder

What Is A First Responder?

The term ‘first responder’ is defined by US Homeland Security as an individual who in the early stages of an incident are ‘responsible for the protection and preservation of life, property, evidence, and the environment’. 

So basically, a first responder is someone who arrives first at the scene of an emergency. They are usually medically trained so they can begin to treat any injuries and potentially save lives while time is of the essence. They may also be known as emergency medical responders. 

First responders can come in the form of law enforcers, firefighters, or emergency medical technicians (EMTs).

A police officer will respond while out on patrol, and EMT will arrive to perform lifesaving medical treatment and continue to care while on the way to the hospital.

Firefighters will respond to a lot of different kinds of emergencies, including situations that don’t even contain fires including natural disasters and waste spills.

First responders usually come from one of these three sub-groups although all three may turn up at the same emergency, depending on its nature. 

What Does A First Responder Do?

The duties and responsibilities of a first responder depends on which of the three sub-groups the first responder belongs to, but there are two main aims of a first responder that all three have to do their best to complete. 

The first is to stop the emergency from progressing. If the emergency is something like a house fire, then an EMT will obviously not be expected to try and put out the fire. But in certain situations, they may be able to do something to stop the incident from getting worse.

This responsibility comes under the ‘protect’ life part of the US Homeland’s definition of a first responder. To sum it up, a first responder should do their best to stop the emergency from continuing to keep others safe from getting injured or hurt further.

A police officer may stop an assailant, and a firefighter may rescue those trapped within a burning building. 

The second is to provide emergency medical care to a patient. Even a police officer will stop to give CPR or first aid to an injured individual.

The priority of a first responder is to also ‘preserve’ life - so giving those involved in the emergency medical attention will keep them alive until they can get to a hospital.

EMTs are more trained to perform life saving techniques than a firefighter or a police officer, but even these sub-groups are trained to perform the CPR and first aid needed to keep an individual alive until a medical professional can intervene. 

This is why first responders are so vitally important in an emergency. They are the first ones on the scene and provide care that can save lives.

They are also the main line of communication between what’s happening on the scene and institutions like hospitals. Without their presence, hospitals would not know how to prepare for incoming patients. It’s heroic work, but it does come with a personal risk. 

So, when a first responder arrives at the scene, they all will do these first few crucial steps. They will assess the situation, and try to stop the situation from progressing any further if they can. Then they will start to provide medical assistance to those involved and are injured. 

Depending on your sub-group, your duties may be more specific. 

As an EMT, you would be relied upon to deliver life support and first aid, preparing injured individuals to be transported by ambulance to a hospital, and overseeing the condition of patients. 

As a firefighter, you will be expected to respond to fire alarms, locate and rescue people from burning buildings, and extinguish any fires safely. Firefighters may also be called upon to help move rubble or remove hazardous waste, and are also trained in CPR and first aid. 

As a police officer, you will have the added responsibility of restoring public order and preventing further harm to civilians by taking down assailants.

You will have to prevent any further vandalism and theft, but you will also be expected to perform CPR and first aid in order to save and preserve life. 

Throughout the whole ordeal, a first responder must remain calm when under pressure. Keeping a cool head enables you to fulfill your duties with precision and care, and ensures that you remain sensible in a potentially dangerous situation.

So if you are able to remain collected in tough situations, then you may decide that you have the qualities needed to take on the role of a first responder. 

Required Qualifications and Training

First responders

The required qualifications needed to start training and become a first responder all depend on which sub-category you are entering.

Becoming a police officer will clearly require different training than becoming a firefighter, but all three sub-groups require you to have at least a high school diploma or a GED (this stands for General Educational Development, but is often else known as a General Education Diploma).

This is the very lowest level of education you will need to be eligible to start training to become a first responder. The further training you will undertake will then differ depending on which sub-group you are entering. 

To become an EMT, you must enter an EMT certificate program that should be available at your closest community college. This programme takes approximately one or two years to complete, and prepares you to pass the licensing exam for your state. 

There you will learn how to stop external bleeding and administer CPR through a combination of classroom and laboratory learning. You may also learn through an internship so you can be taught on-site.

Other topics that are covered in an EMT certificate program include cardiac and respiratory care, patient assessment and pharmacology. Studying all these topics are what enables you to provide the best possible care to injured individuals in an emergency. 

Budding police officers will receive basic training at a police academy, although in some cases you can train through a community college. Many police departments require officers to complete some additional college courses or earn a two year associate’s degree.

Law enforcement programs prepare you to prevent crime and preserve public order by projecting authority.

You will receive firearms training, crisis intervention training, and also learn how to make critical decisions through classroom based lessons and lab simulations.

All this accumulates to allow you to take out assailants in an emergency and preserve order in such a tense and stressful environment. 

Firefighters will receive training after they are hired, but if you want to get ahead, you can also train through college programs such as an associate’s degree in fire science. This sort of degree will come in handy when you are trained as a firefighter in fire protection and suppression. 

The courses involved address fire chemistry and physics, firefighting tactics and the kind of equipment you will be handing as a firefighter. Other courses may also include topics like fire rescue and hazardous materials.

It sounds a lot harder than it is, but firefighters are versatile and vital in an emergency situation due to their wide range of knowledge surrounding fire and waste. This makes them essential in any kind of emergency.

If you are looking into becoming a first responder, then these are the kind of courses and training you may want to undertake to get a head start.

There is also another kind of training you can do that will be a big help to you, even if you decide not to become a first responder: first aid and CPR.

We have talked about it a lot already so it’s easy to see why CPR and first aid is so important in an emergency. It could mean the difference between life and death, so it is vital that you learn how to apply CPR and first aid correctly.

Although you may undergo this in your other courses, passing a course specifically designed around CPR and first aid may enhance your chances of being chosen to become a first responder. 

And even if you eventually decide that working as a first responder is not for you, it is a useful skill to have and could help save your life or others if you ever find yourself on the scene of an emergency. 

Where Do First Responders Work?

First responders work in different areas depending on their sub-group. 

A police officer can be employed by the local government and work at the nearest police station. However, most first responding police officers are the ones who are out on patrol and happen to be the closest to where the emergency has happened.

They will get a call telling them to report to the area and respond to the situation, then they will head on over to the scene. On average, a police officer earns around $61,000 a year.

EMTs primarily work for ambulance services although some may be hired by local government agencies and hospitals. EMTs and paramedics earn roughly $35,000 a year, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Firefighters are based at their nearest fire station, and earn on average $50,000 a year. 


So to recap, the role of a first responder is to be the first on the scene at an emergency, and do everything they can to protect and preserve life.

Depending on their job, they may be required to undertake different duties - police officers will stop assailants and restore order, EMTs provide lifesaving medical care, and firefighters tackle burning buildings and rescue those trapped in dangerous situations - but overall, they all aim to save lives using their specified and expert training. 

Being a first responder is not an easy job. It is a role that comes with a lot of responsibility, and requires the responder to keep calm in stressful situations.

It’s not a role suited to everyone but hopefully, you now know enough about being a first responder to decide if this is the right career for you.