While most of us have been holed up at home working, watching Netflix and donning real pants only to buy groceries, first responders have gone about their business, helping sick people, keeping the public safe. Even though each house call could expose them to the coronavirus, working through a crisis is what they signed up for.
Wilson resident Tom Patricelli wanted to find a way to thank those first responders. With the help of Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr and the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole, he found one, a new fund designated for first responders, their families and agencies.
“These people can’t stay home, they can’t shelter in place,” he said. “I think sometimes we take them for granted, but they are putting it on the line for us every day.”
Patricelli seeded the First Responders Support Fund with its first influx of cash and hopes others will follow suit.
“What I’ve found in 20 years of working in the nonprofit world in this town, is that if you put a good idea in front of this community,” he said, “the community will step up.”
The fund is intended to cover three main areas: first responders’ families, training and protective equipment. Economic stagnation caused by county and state orders that closed business has lowered town and county revenues, which eats into the budgets of the Teton County Sheriff’s Office, Jackson Hole Fire/EMS and the Jackson Police Department.
For instance, the News&Guide reported last week that Fire/EMS would have to cut supplies of protective gear, but the department might be able to apply to the new fund to cover those costs. Jackson Police Chief Todd Smith said a quick influx of cash could help keep officers safe and aid the department in training them.
“To have something that can augment that and keep some training standards up would be huge to us right now,” he said.
Somewhat similar philanthropic efforts have existed in the past, and some still do, but they aren’t quite like this fund. The sheriff’s office has the Teton County Sheriff’s Auxiliary and the Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation. Smith said the Community Foundation has had a fund for first responders, but this one allows agencies to apply for funds on behalf of individual first responders.
That could come in handy, particularly for families in which both parents are first responders, Carr said. In one family in his department, one parent is in court security and one in dispatch. With their kids at home all the time they have had to stagger schedules and for much of the outbreak have been “passing in the night.”
Carr anticipated families like that might explore funds for child care once more facilities open. Patricelli’s goal in creating the fund was to honor the work of first responders, who have said working in conditions like this is both unnerving and simply part of the job.
Whether they are firefighters or law enforcement officers, first responders are prepared to encounter high-stress situations or sick people. But they also have families to consider when they respond to a call when someone might have COVID-19.
“That takes a bit of courage with the idea you could pick that up and bring it home,” Fire/EMS Chief Brady Hansen said.
All three agency heads — Hansen, Carr and Smith — acknowledged that some of the stress from the outbreak came from the unknown and the anticipation. Once crews started doing their jobs, training kicked in and pushed that fear to the back of their minds.
However, even though the outbreak is just another problem to deal with for people used to dealing with problems, the combination of budget cuts, overtime and stretched-thin rosters take their toll. This fund aims to ameliorate some of those problems, and even though the three men may use the money in different ways they appreciate Patricelli’s generosity, as well as the largesse of anyone else who plans on donating.
Visit CFJacksonHole.org, click “donate” and enter “first responders” to contribute.
“People care so much, and some have resources to really help,” Hansen said. “I never saw anything like it outside of Jackson.”