Key Takeaways

    • Meeting your first responders to say thank you can be a powerful moment for everyone—including your first responders.
    • For survivors and co-survivors, this reunion can be healing in many ways, but only when they are ready.
    • To organize a reunion, contact the local station that came to your aid and/or the public relations department at the fire department.
How do I make that happen? And when is the right time?

Meeting your first responders, whether they are paramedics, firefighters, or police officers, to say thank you can be a powerful and uplifting moment for everyone.

Why reunions matter

At some point during recovery, you may choose to organize a reunion with the first responders who saved you or your loved one’s life. Meeting your “chain of survival” to show your gratitude can be healing.

First responder perspective

First responders seldom learn the outcomes of the cardiac arrest patients they treat, let alone get the chance to meet one they saved. So, when a survivor and a co-survivor say, “Thank you for saving my life,” it’s a big deal.

Fire chief insight: “Every time I was able to meet a cardiac arrest survivor of mine was an awe-inspiring moment. It’s the fuel in the tank that continues to push us forward.”

Co-survivor perspective

As a co-survivor, you may have been wishing for the day you could express your immense gratitude to the first responder team who saved your loved one. You’ll find the words; just speak from your heart. And when you do, you may feel the load you carry has perhaps gotten a bit lighter through this human connection. If you witnessed cardiac arrest, watching them work on your loved one may have created disturbing memories. Now, seeing them all smiles in a normal setting can help to reset your connection from a terrifying moment to a joyful one.

Co-survivor/lay rescuer insight: “When I met the 911 dispatcher who coached me through CPR, it was like hugging an angel. My gratitude and our bond will be forever.”

Survivor perspective

Establishing a connection and being able to ask first responders questions about resuscitation can be helpful. Sometimes survivors feel detached from their own story because they have no memory of it happening. Meeting with first responders helps to make what has felt like a waking dream real. This new perspective and anchor point can help survivors begin to come to terms with what happened.

Survivor insight: “It’s a humbling experience to die. And it’s hard to describe just how important it was to say thank you to the first responders who saved me… No one has more heart than these guys. I’m forever grateful to them.”

How to organize a reunion with your first responders

Meeting the first responders may turn out to be the first step toward advocacy. There is no set time relative to the cardiac arrest for it to occur. Pick a time when you and your survivor feel ready. But where do you start? It’s not like you can call 911 to find out!

Co-survivor and survivor insight: “We had a strong desire to meet and say thank you to the people who worked so hard to save my life. But, we didn’t have a clue how to make that happen.”

You can start by calling the fire station that came to your aid. You can find the phone number on their website. Or you can call the main public relations department at your fire department. Once they have your name, they can determine which shift handled your call. 

Your local fire department may already have a process in place for reunions. Their leadership understands how important it is for survivors and families. They also understand first-hand how meaningful it can be for the first responders. Meeting a cardiac arrest survivor they successfully resuscitated is a big deal. Make sure you request that the 911 dispatcher and all bystander responders be invited as well.

When the big day comes, you may want to bring some token of gratitude. And don’t forget your camera!

Thank You to Our Contributors

Jennifer Chap

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