National Holiday for Responders Closer to Reality

Grief can manifest itself in many ways. For Andrew Collier -- the brother of fallen MIT Police Officer Sean Collier -- it led him to spur an effort to honor America's first responders.

That effort is continuing to gain steam after U.S. Congressmen Michael Capuano, D-Mass. and Dan Maffei D-N.Y. introduced a bill in the House of Representatives on Feb. 27 that would designate a federal holiday to be known as "National First Responders Day."

Andrew recently spoke with Officer.com about how his push for a holiday began, why he thinks it's important to recognize first responders on a national level and honoring his brother's legacy.

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Last Memorial Day, just over a month after Sean was killed during a manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers, Andrew began to think about the need for a national holiday that pays respects to the sacrifices made by law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics and others.

"I played around on Google for a little bit and quickly realized that there really isn't (a national holidy). May 15 is Peace Officers Day, but it's not really a holiday and is more of a day of recognition," he said. "I really was kind of surprised by it and really felt like there should be a day that we all recognize our first responders."

Honoring First Responders

Andrew began discussing the idea with his sister, Jennifer Lemmerman -- who had experience dealing with legislation in the past. Both of them began researching the issue and found out that it would ultimately have to go through Congress.

"We thought the best place to start would be a petition," he said, adding that around that time a petition was launched on the website Change.org. "We had some good success. On one of my brother's memorial pages, they send out a notice and got use a ton of signatures. We really had great momentum at the beginning and a lot of support."

After Change.org noticed the surge in support, they gave Andrew the URLwww.Change.org/firstreponders, making the ability to find the petition a lot easier.

Next, Andrew contacted Congressman Capuano's office about drafting the legislation for the bill. He was already familiar with the congressman, who introduced a bill extending the same death benefits to the families of campus police officers that are given to over law enforcement officers.

"Through my sister's contacts, I got in touch with someone at his office and they really ran with it," he said, noting that he feels like his part in the effort has been fairly easy. "I think it's been more difficult for them than for me. They were in contact with me quite a bit to see where my vision was on the holiday. They really wanted to make sure I had full input into it."

Andrew said that focusing on a given date has slowed down similar efforts in the past, so he decided to leave that open, which made the drafting of the bill difficult.

"If I tried to make it April 18, that would hinder the process, because then it seems like more of a holiday for (my brother). I didn't want that. I wanted a holiday for all first responders," he said.

While the congressman's office struggled with how to do that, Andrew said that in the end did a great job, saying that the wording in the bill is "perfect."

The vast majority of the feedback Andrew has received for spearheading the effort to create the holiday has been positive, and he said many people have echoed the sentiment that that such a day should have been designated a long time ago.

"It really is true. It should have happened a long time ago," he said. "We've seen time and time again how important our first responders are and they should be recognized for it."

After being introduced, the bill was referred to an oversight committee, which will review it and decide whether or not to put it on the floor of the House. If approved by the House, it would then head to the Senate -- and if approved there -- would be sent to the President's desk.

I'm obviously excited for it; I want it to happen fast. But unfortunately a lot of the time, things in government don't work that fast," he said. "I'm expecting it's going to be a little while. But overall, from everything I've heard, this bill has moved extremely fast -- pretty much unheard of fast -- for something like this. That makes me happy and hopefully it continues to add momentum."

Remembering Sean

On April 18 -- the anniversary of Sean Collier's death -- Andrew and his family will be attending a groundbreaking ceremony at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where a memorial will be built on the site where he was killed.

Shortly after that, Andrew will be traveling with his family to Washington, D.C. for National Police Week, which will run May 11-14.

"I really have no idea what to expect," Andrew said. "Everyone tells me you can't imagine how it is very nice -- obviously it is very sad in the reason that you're there. I'm pretty much going there and just playing it by ear and seeing what happens."

With the first anniversary of the Boston Bombings right around the corner on April 15, Sean's name is sure to come up in media coverage, along with the victims of the bombings. Andrew said that he wants people to remember his brother through his actions.

"I think really the stories that have come out since his death of just how much he wanted to help people, how willing he was to help anyone and how much he really loved the people that he was serving," he said. "I want people to remember those stories, because I could sit there and tell you he was a great guy or that he was a saint, but you're just hearing me talk. Hearing these stories really shows the kind of person he was and I think that's really what his legacy should be."

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