If you’re a firefighter, paramedic, police officer or other first responder in Canberra, you may soon find a card from one of Good Shepherd Primary School’s more than 700 students in your work mailbox.
The Amaroo Catholic school is the first school to participate in Thank a First Responder Day (7 June), a national day created to remind people to say ‘thank you’ to first responders for their selfless work.
“Thank you for risking your lives to help others,” one student wrote on one of the almost 700 postcard-sized cards which will be given out to ACT police, fire and ambulance stations on Wednesday.
“We are inspired to be much better people because of you. At one point, you even helped me recover from a broken arm! Thank you for everything!”
Social, emotional and well-being teacher Shannon Malone-Brierley visited every class from kindergarten through year six over a few weeks to speak with the students about first responders’ work.
“I think the big [messages] came from the really little kids,” she says. “They were able to acknowledge that these are big jobs, and they almost looked at these first responders as superheroes.”
Ms Malone-Brierley says the idea to run the activity with the students originated with a parent who works for the not-for-profit running Thank a First Responder Day, Fortem Australia.
“We just thought it was a really good opportunity to actually have a teachable moment with the children around gratitude and the importance of gratitude,” she says.
“The big thing we know is that when children express gratitude, they can focus on the positive parts of their lives, which help them, in turn, want to make a difference.
“We have this wonderful population of people who do these really important jobs and have had a really hard time with COVID, and it was a good opportunity to stop and say thank you.”
Fortem and the Rapid Relief Team have organised a dozen free barbecue lunches across Australia to do just that, including one at Majura Police Complex in Canberra.
The Governor-General and Linda Hurley will also host a special private event at Canberra’s Government House building on Wednesday evening.
Among the thousands of Australians the day is all about is Commander Guy Cassis, who has worked for ACT Fire & Rescue for more than 20 years.
“Many of us enter this career because we do want to help. We’re not doing it to seek accolade or anything,” he says.
“We would rather go about our job, help people and see a good outcome and if we can facilitate that, then that’s where we get our satisfaction from.
“Sometimes it can be very small, and sometimes we might never achieve it because as a fire service … despite our best efforts, sometimes nature still wins.”
He says one of the most enjoyable ‘small’ moments of his time as a firefighter has been running fire education workshops with kindergarten students.
“Kids being kids, they’re wonderful, and some of them will have questions and others will have stories, and they’re always humorous,” he says.
“You can think you might have covered all the bases, but then the next thing you know, they’ll come up with a complex scenario.
“So, you just have to try and reassure them that we will be there to help them if anything serious goes wrong.”
Commander Cassis now works behind the scenes in ACT Fire & Rescue headquarters but continues to serve the Canberra community by guiding the next generation of recruits.
He says his advice is to be open-minded and embrace teamwork so they can give their best for the community, “and I think all of my colleagues do that”.
Fortem says people can get involved by saying thanks on social media, using the hashtags #ThankAFirstResponder, #PowerOfThanks or #TAFRD so the posts show up in Fortem’s ‘gratitude gallery’ on their website, or by writing a letter, poem or a card to local first responders. Any donations to Fortem made until midnight of 7 June will also be matched up to $150,000 by the sponsor, the Howarth Foundation.
All donations to Fortem go towards the not-for-profit organisation’s provision of specialised well-being and mental health support to first responders and their families.
To learn more about Thank a First Responder Day, donate or access free resources, visit the Thank a First Responder Day website.