Published in The Lowell Sun March 8, 2017
BOSTON — A Tewksbury official is expressing disappointment that Gov. Charlie Baker has failed to visit the town after nearly a year since promising a formal signing ceremony for a bill to honor first responders that originated there.
First Responders Day, which falls on the third Sunday of April preceding Patriots Day, was the idea of former selectman and outgoing Town Moderator Jerry Selissen. State Rep. Jim Miceli, D-Wilmington, filed a bill on Selissen’s behalf to establish the day in 2015. Rep. James Arciero, D-Westford, Rep. Rady Mom, D-Lowell, and Sen. Barbara L’Italien, D-Andover, were among co-sponsors.
Although the original date Miceli proposed was changed, Baker signed the bill into law on April 15, 2016, two days before the inaugural First Responders Day.
The quick signing was “the biggest disappointment” because it didn’t allow for enough time to prepare “anything of significance,” Selissen said.
“I’m in hopes that now almost a whole year has gone by that we can do something a little bit what would be more appropriate to recognize local police and fire,” he said.
“First responders put their own lives on the line to save others in danger, and we have a responsibility to ensure they receive strong leadership, representation and recognition on Beacon Hill,” Baker said in a statement after he signed the legislation.
“Every day, these brave men and women and their families provide extraordinary service to the commonwealth. We strive to follow their example and will use this occasion every year to recommit ourselves to doing so.”
But, a spokeswoman acknowledged, “the governor has not participated in a ceremonial signing in Tewksbury as of today.”
Selissen said he has worked with first responders, has respect for veterans, like his father who served in the Coast Guard and his father-in-law who served in World War II and later the Boston Fire Department.
Miceli said a day of thanks for first responders was long overdue.
“For many years, we have rightfully honored the veterans and service-members, and we rightfully honor our presidents and other public servants, but we had forgotten about the men and women who put on fire, police, and EMT uniforms to serve us every day in our communities,” Miceli said in a statement.
Especially after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, Selissen and Miceli felt more of a need to honor first responders and “correct that situation.”
“I hope that for many years to come that this day will honor all those who have fallen in the line of duty, such as Wilmington’s own son Sean Collier, who choose to take a tremendous risk each day so that we may live in a peaceful, stable community without fear,” Miceli said.
Collier, a 26-year-old MIT police officer, died a few days later after a confrontation with the Tsarnaev brothers.
His family has pushed for a National First Responder’s Day. U.S. Rep. Mike Capuano introduced the legislation in 2013, but it did not make it out of committee.
Several departments said they have heard about First Responders Day, but they don’t currently have plans to celebrate it.
Lowell Fire Chief Jeffrey Winward said the department has other “special days” throughout the year to honor firefighters.
An awards ceremony for those who have gone above and beyond in the line of duty and a memorial march for retired firefighters who have lost their lives are some ways the department honors its members, Winward said.
Chelmsford Fire Chief Gary Ryan also said his department doesn’t have anything planned and that the day “snuck up on us.”
In lieu of a formal celebration, Ryan said the department will be honoring former chief Fred Reid who served in the department 31 years and died last week.
“We’ll take First Responders Day as a day to honor some of the other firefighters who have come before us and try to carry Chief Reid’s legacy and commitment to public safety forward,” Ryan said.
Miceli’s office said there are plans to have a large event for First Responders Day around the time of the Marathon and is working on details with the governor’s office.
In the month leading up to the next First Responders Day, Selissen said he would like to see the state put together guidelines for how cities and towns should recognize first responders.
Selissen also said he is still hoping to hear from Baker’s office.
“If someone from the governor’s office wants to reach out to me,” he said, “I would be more than happy to talk to them about what we can do to make this a memorable day going forward.”