Honoring The Heroes Of Emergency Preparedness

At the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum in Manhattan, you will read these words from the ancient Roman poet Virgil, “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”

And so Americans everywhere have continued to gather at 9/11 observances, every year since that terrible day, to ensure that it will never erase the memory of those we lost, and the ideals for which they will forever stand.

That was the case early last week at the 5th Annual Honor & Remembrance Ceremony at Tri-County First Responders Honor Park in Gang Mills, where we paid homage to 9/11 victims and their families and loved ones – and where we also strengthened the sense of community, resolve, and sacrifice so critical to the future of our region, state, and nation.

As well, an annual tribute goes out to a local first responder who continues to stand for the virtues that have become synonymous with law enforcement, firefighters, and emergency responders everywhere since September 11, 2001: fearlessness, selflessness, and sacrifice, among many others.

This year’s “First Responder of the Year” award recipient is Stephen Copp Sr., who for more than 50 years has served locally as an active paramedic and Emergency Services Instructor. He is the first honoree from the ranks of Emergency Medical Services.

Former Corning Mayor Al Lewis may have said it best when he said, “I have worked with Steve for over 50 years in many different capacities and I can confirm he has dedicated his life to saving lives of others throughout the Southern Tier. He has done so much.”

Those words alone signal the reason why our first responders earn our gratitude.

I have said it many times in the past, yet it always bears repeating: On behalf of the residents of the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions, “thank you” to those who come to the rescue in so many different and crucial ways.

Time after time, we have been reassured — and had our faith and hope restored — through countless gestures of caring and commitment, rescue and recovery. A thousand stories go untold but collectively they stand as a powerful force of renewal. We simply do not carry on without them.

In 2014, New York State launched the Citizen Preparedness Corps with the goal of training 100,000 New Yorkers “to be first responders in their own homes and in their communities.” The program seeks to provide citizens with tools and resources to help them better prepare for and respond to emergencies and disasters. All of the programs are coordinated with local county emergency management personnel. To date, forums have been held in every county within the 58th Senate District (Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Tompkins, and Yates counties) and more are scheduled each year (see prepare.ny.gov).

State and federal governments also provide critical funding to help localities strengthen and upgrade their emergency response capabilities. These timely and important public safety and emergency response grants make a difference for local emergency response teams. Emergency preparedness, response, and recovery are fundamental government responsibilities.

Yet as the years have gone by, whenever we highlight the importance of local emergency services, one fact has been constant: declining numbers of volunteer firefighters, EMTs, and other emergency services personnel. The trend has been well documented by prominent organizations like the Firemen’s Association of New York (FASNY).

New York government will continue to face stubborn economic and fiscal challenges in the future, as well as challenges in our schools, maintaining local roads and bridges, and others. Nevertheless, part of our long-term focus, in my view, must always include the ability of local volunteer fire companies and emergency services to recruit and retain volunteers.

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