The phrase “first responder” gained a certain cachet following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent focus on preparing for future such attacks, especially those involving chemical or biological weapons or so-called “dirty bombs.” In practice, however, “first responders” are simply performing the same mission for which they have been trained for centuries. First responders are police, fire, and emergency medical services that are the first to arrive on the scene of a crime, accident, terrorist attack, or any other crisis requiring such a response. Additionally, and especially since the advent of modern forensics and investigative techniques, there has long been a requirement to secure a crime scene for the purpose of protecting the integrity of the scene from deliberate or inadvertent actions that can contaminate or destroy physical evidence. Therefore, police in particular have long been expected to take the measures necessary to secure crime scenes once a perpetrator has been apprehended or, in the advent the perpetrator having fled, broadcast any descriptive material that has been quickly ascertained regarding the identity of the suspect. In addition, protection of the crime scene would be a secondary concern in cases where emergency medical services are required to aid a victim or perpetrator.
There is rarely a serious trade-off between the imperatives of responding to the crisis and protecting the integrity of the crime scene. Police officers on patrol are responsible for their assigned sectors, but patrols are designed to overlap to ensure that more than one unit is available to respond to a call. Depending upon the reason for which a police dispatcher is directing a patrolling officer to a specific location, there would almost always be a second unit also assigned to provide back-up to the initial unit. In the event of a report of an incident for which a “code three” response is required – in effect, the responding police officers are authorized to drive with emergency lights and siren activated – there is automatically a call for multiple units to respond.
The reason for the above discussion of police procedures is to highlight the training involved in recognition of the requirement to assist those in need, apprehend suspects, and secure the scene. The number of responding police, fire and ambulance or paramedic units assigned to respond is almost always sufficient in number to enable multitasking. The supervisors involved are often acting with minimal information immediately available, so are dependent upon the first units on the scene to inform him or her of the situation. As stated, however, it is routine for multiple units to respond to a crisis, so all missions can be executed concurrently.