Are First Responders Veterans?

First responders are the closest thing to a living superhero that you can find. They’re the first on the scene of an accident and the first to arrive when emergencies occur. More often than not, first responders can make the difference between life and death. Emergency medical technicians (EMTs), paramedics, firefighters, and law enforcement officers are all considered first responders.

Are first responders considered veterans?

To the general public, no first responders are not considered Veterans. A veteran is a person who has served in the armed forces. First responders, who by all means deserve recognition for their service to the public, are not immediately considered veterans based on these acts of service and can only be classified as such with extensive time in their respective field.

If you are looking at a rewarding career in public service, whether as a member of the armed services or in the realm of the first responder, this article has been designed to aid you in choosing the right path that best fits you.

What is a Veteran?

A veteran, according to Merriam Webster, is:

  • a former member of the armed forces;
  • A person of long experience usually in some occupation or skill.

For many, when we hear the term “veteran” we automatically assume that the person in question served in some branch of the United States military. Though by definition, a veteran can also relate to someone who has extensive experience in their field, most of us sway toward military service when we hear that particular word.

In terms of military service, the Veteran’s Administration (VA) deems anyone who served in the active military, naval, or air service and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable as a veteran. Though it seems fairly cut and dry, there are a few situations that still qualify someone as a veteran in the eyes of the VA:

  1. Commissioned officers in the Public Health Service
  2. Commissioned officers of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  3. Commissioned officers of the Environmental Science Services Administration
  4. Service by certain civilians whose work supported military operations and the armed forces during periods of conflict or war.

I know this is a lot of information to take in and may seem a bit confusing, but there is the purpose, I promise!

What is a First Responder?

Are First Responders Veterans?

A first responder is someone who has received specialized training in their respective field and is among the first to arrive and provide assistance at the scene of an emergency, including accidents, natural disasters, or acts of terrorism. Law enforcement officers, paramedics, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians are all recognized under the umbrella of first responders.

The term ‘first responder’ was first used to describe these living superheroes in a 1973 Boston Globe article. I’m assuming that before that, we just called them ‘the guardians.’

There are multiple designations for first responders, beyond law enforcement, paramedic, firefighter, or EMT:

  • Certified/Emergency medical responder: one who has received specialized training and is certified to perform life-saving actions in times of need (law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, EMTs)
  • Community/Non-traditional first responder: a person who has received basic training in life-saving interventions like CPR (lifeguards, teachers, childcare workers, security officers, park rangers, SCUBA divers)

Now that you’re a little wiser about what constitutes a veteran and what defines a first responder, let’s dig a little deeper into the main question.

Why aren’t First Responders Automatically Considered Veterans?

Though military veterans and first responders share a desire to serve and can share some of the same issues (post-traumatic stress disorder, injury, disparity between pay received and services rendered), there is a huge difference between the two.

A military veteran essentially voluntarily signs a contract for a given period with the United States government, swearing an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and virtually giving the government a blank check for their lives. Breaching that contract has dire consequences that can range from a temporary prison sentence or the more permanently damaging status of dishonorable discharge, making a future seemingly impossible. Seeing that contract to fruition has great benefits, though, as granted by the Veteran’s Administration, that range from healthcare to housing to a financially solid retirement.

A first responder, whether they are law enforcement, firefighter, EMT, or paramedic, voluntarily joins their department, just as someone voluntarily enlists with the armed forces. Even if a contract is present, breaching said contract won’t have the dreadful consequences that come with disappointing Uncle Sam. First responders swear no binding oath, though many fields do have their oaths and codes of ethics, and have no binding obligation to risk their own lives at the insistence of a higher power. First responders take those risks willingly and, in the instance, they choose not to, they’ll be let go from their position and can take the necessary steps to transition into a field that better suits them.

So, are First Responders Just Civilians?

According to Merriam-Webster, a civilian is:

  • A specialist in Roman or modern civil law;
  • One not on active duty in the armed services or not on a police or firefighting force.

We can dismiss the definition regarding being a specialist in Roman or civil law. I don’t think that we’re too concerned about that topic at the moment. Maybe we’ll talk about that later. Our focus is the latter part of the definition.

Law enforcement officers and firefighters fall outside of being a simple civilian, they are sworn and uniformed officers. But what about paramedics and EMTs? That all depends on who you ask.

Are First Responders Veterans?

If you ask a member of the military, everyone but themselves is considered civilians, even law enforcement and firefighters. If you were to ask an everyday citizen, the answer may be much different. Most people consider all servicemembers, from first responders to those serving in the military, to be above the title of simple ‘civilian.’ For the most part, society deems those in these superhero roles to be the supporting pillars that hold everything up and together.

To answer the question: No. First responders are not just civilians. They’re much, much more.

How do I become a First Responder?

First and foremost, you’ll have to pick your path: law enforcement, firefighter, EMT, or paramedic.

All four legs of the first responder table require extensive training. Some require vocational training in addition to traditional college courses and all will vary from state to state and department to department. Though each facet has specific qualifications and training, all will include a first responder certification. You’ll be required to take courses that cover rescue procedures, medical stabilization methods, and other immediate care techniques, as well as how to administer CPR and AED operations.

Check with your local police department, firehouse, or emergency medical services office to find out what your city and state requirements for you to leap into the career of your dreams.

More about first responders HERE.

I Think I’d Rather Be a Veteran. How do I join the U.S. Military?

Joining the United States armed forces is fairly simple and straightforward. Just visit your local recruitment office or take a look at to see all the requirements necessary to become the next enlisted member of the U.S. military.

Related Questions

I can’t choose between law enforcement and firefighting. Can I do both?

In short, the answer is a resounding YES! You can combine all four legs of the first responder table and become an undefeatable superhero.

There are law enforcement departments across the United States that prefer for their officers to carry multiple first responder certifications. The Dallas-Fort Worth Airport Police Department primarily employs officers who carry both their law enforcement certification and paramedic or emergency medical technician certification. These officers are paid a higher premium for carrying multiple certifications.

Can I be a first responder IN the United States military?

Depending on the branch you choose to join, many career paths within the United States military will allow for you to be both a first responder and an active military member. Each branch of the U.S. military has multiple disciplines that can allow for you to be both a member of the military and an active first responder. From combat medics to military police to military firefighters, the potential opportunities are endless.

I want to be a first responder, but I want to be able to pay my bills. How much money do first responders make?

The current national average for the umbrella of the first responder is $43,000 per year. Of course, this number will vary depending on the area you’re serving in and what field (or fields) you’ve chosen to pursue a fulfilling career of service in.

Related Articles

How Do Soldiers Not Go Deaf?

To learn how to best prepare and study for your firefighter exam click here.

Free civil service guide. Click here to learn more:

Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.