I'm thankful for America's first responders -- 365 days a year

As Americans begin the annual “over the river and through the woods” trek to see family and friends for Thanksgiving, we should be thankful for the sacrifices of our first responders, who never stop unselfishly serving us – including during the holiday season.

The busiest travel period of the year has arrived. Airports, train stations and highways are filling up with holiday travelers, all hoping to arrive on time.

But in police and fire stations, in airports and train stations, there will inevitably be a different energy building. This one will about law enforcement professionals maintaining focus on identifying weapons and malevolent actors, and on projecting a positive image despite the crush of humanity and the impatience of travelers.

As in every year, this holiday season will carry with it an unwelcome share of tragedy. Drivers will be distracted or fatigued. Winter weather will add slick road. In too many places, deadly accidents and closed roads will lead the news coverage.

Lost in that coverage is the routine that we’ve come to expect but seldom fully appreciate – the thousands of volunteer or paid emergency medical system and fire personnel who await their next horrible summons calling them to action.

Lost in that coverage is the routine that we’ve come to expect but seldom fully appreciate – the thousands of volunteer or paid emergency medical system and fire personnel who await their next horrible summons calling them to action. 

They respond in all weather conditions. They are the ones searching for missing nursing home residents while battling wind-whipped walls of flame. They are the ones going back inside the blazing residence to save the family dog or cat. They are the first to see the horrendous damage to the human body when vehicles collide at high speed. 

Look no further than the madman-spawned tragedy in Las Vegas to see the incredible sacrifice of our fire and EMS personnel. A dozen off-duty firefighters were shot when mass killer Stephen Paddock opened fire from his 32nd floor room with high-powered rifles modified to mimic automatic weapons. Two of the 12 were hit while performing CPR on other victims at the scene. 

We’ve heard it before and we’ve come to expect it: “They ran toward the danger.” Here and in so many other places across the country, that’s what happens every day. I’m thankful for it. I’m thankful for men and women who willingly put themselves in great danger for the sake of others. 

There’s another selfless profession that runs toward the danger. Our law enforcement officers.

Baltimore Detective Sean Suiter was one of them. Suiter was doing his job, searching for a killer in a downtrodden Baltimore neighborhood last week. He died doing that job when he was cut down by a killer’s bullets.

Suiter was surrounded by his wife and five children when he died. His kids will soon know their father only vicariously – by the stories told by friends about what a great, committed cop he was.

In Pennsylvania, New Kensington Police Officer Brian Shaw was another. The 25 year-old officer saw something suspicious last Friday night. He stopped a car and chased its occupant on foot before being fatally shot in the chest. His tragic death should be a powerful reminder that there is no “routine” traffic stop for police.

New York City Police Officer Ryan Nash was another heroic officer. Nash, a five-year NYPD veteran, was outside the Stuyvesant High School when accused ISIS-inspired terrorist Sayfullo Saipov alighted from a rented truck he’d used to mow down pedestrians on a city bike path, killing eight.

Saipov hollered the terrorist mantra, “Allah akbar!” and pulled out two weapons as he fled the truck. Nash had, like police in too many encounters have, mere seconds to assess the subject and his weapons and make a fateful choice – to use deadly force or not.

The officer confronted Saipov and shot him in the abdomen. The accused terrorist survived and will face the U.S. criminal justice system, while Nash was hailed as a hero.

We need more Officer Nashes, because we will have more Sayfullo Saipovs. And we need more Detective Suiters and Officer Shaws because America needs more heroes who conquer their fears and run toward the danger. 

I am thankful for all of them. 

Each one, and tens of thousands of others just like them, reflects the true professionalism in law enforcement and an ethos that is driven by doing good, helping others, trying to make life a little better, making dangerous streets a little safer. They do it in small towns and big cities. They’ll be doing it around the clock on Thanksgiving and on Christmas. 

We owe them our gratitude, not just on one day but every day.

Ron Hosko is president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, and former assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.