Market To Market: On The Frontlines


They’re the unsung heroes of communities all over the world—the first responders who sacrifice their own safety to protect and serve others. Police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and other emergency personnel are there when they are called upon and often shoulder unfathomable burdens as they fulfill their commitment to serve their communities.

In recent months, these professionals have courageously responded to everything from the global coronavirus pandemic to natural disasters. In the United States, the force of first responders is more than four million strong. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reports that approximately 4.6 million career and volunteer policemen and women, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedic workers serve throughout the country. 

In the coming years, the number of first responders is projected to grow. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for EMTs and paramedics are projected to jump seven percent from 2018 to 2028, which is faster than average. The BLS projects a five-percent employment growth for police officers and firefighters during this time period, which is in line with other professions.

When citizens need help, they know who to call. However, not everything first responders do involves flashing lights and sirens. These professionals provide so much for their communities, from offering help installing car seats to providing free CPR classes. That’s why police stations, firehouses and emergency rooms are prime audiences for gifting promotional products—stat. 

Through branded items, public servants can connect with the public in meaningful ways. They can educate community members on how to stay healthy or guide them on what to do in an emergency. Public safety departments can also use logoed items to remind the community of the potentially life-saving programs they offer. Just as successful businesses promote their offerings, public safety departments can promote their services and programs with promotional products. 

Beyond awareness campaigns, promotional products can also help police, fire and emergency departments bolster recruitment efforts, show appreciation and reward the profession’s finest. While the U.S. Senate declared October 28 as Honoring the Nation’s First Responders Day, there are opportunities all year long to celebrate and recognize the contributions of first responders. 

Read on to learn more about the unique needs of the nation’s first responders and how you can use promotional products to go above and beyond for these critical personnel. 

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Although long-term employment projections look positive, more first responders are needed on the ground now. Even before the challenges of COVID-19, emergency departments around the country were strained with significant shortages. 

Police departments are lowering their hiring standards as they face a lack of qualified recruits. According to USA Today, an increasing number of law enforcement agencies have started to accept applicants who have arrest records for low-level offenses as well as those who admit to past drug use and who lack college degrees.

Fire departments are forced to eliminate services or shut down completely due to a lack of volunteers. For example, in Pennsylvania, the number of volunteer firefighters declined from 300,000 in the 1970s to only 38,000 in 2018, according to the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute. Fewer pairs of boots on the ground puts communities—and millions of acres of forest—at risk. Last year’s wildfire season in California saw nearly 8,000 fires that ended in an estimated 259,823 acres of burned land, according to Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service. 

On the medical front, emergency responders must scramble to provide high-quality care despite an influx of patients. According to the American Journal of Managed Care, nearly half of all medical care in the United States occurs in emergency departments. In March, Congress approved more than $8 billion in emergency funding for states, which was used to test people for COVID-19, track those who had fallen ill and provide public awareness campaigns. Still, an urgent need remains for qualified medical professionals.

Considering the vast need in virtually all categories of first responders, distributors have an opportunity to create impactful recruitment campaigns. Through promotional products, these agencies can call attention to the urgent need for more helping hands.

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  • 66.3% of EMS workers are male
  • 82.8% are white 
  • 7.68% are black
  • 2.6% are Asian
  • The median age of EMS workers is 35.9

Source: Data USA

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First responders work in high-stress jobs—often with little or no down time. More than half (54 percent) of EMS services use 24-hour shifts, approximately 29 percent use 12-hour shifts and only 7 percent use 8- or 10-hour shifts. Some departments call on EMS workers to work 48-hour shifts. While the nature of the job remains the same, departments can take steps to protect workers’ health and well-being through wellness campaigns. 

Source: EMSWorld.com

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Fire Services Fast Facts

  • The U.S. is home to 370,000 career firefighters and 745,000 volunteer firefighters.
  • Only 8 percent of firefighters are female.
  • 50 percent of firefighters are between the ages of 30 and 49.
  • The U.S has 29,705 fire departments and 18 percent are comprised of all-career or mostly career departments.
  • Across the country, 45 percent of fire departments provide basic life support, while 17 percent provide advanced life support. More than a third (38 percent) provide no emergency medical services.

Source: National Fire Protection Association, 2018

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Almost half (49 percent) of fire departments around the country protect communities of fewer than 2,500 people. Of the 396,000 firefighters who protect these communities, 96 percent are volunteers. Many volunteer departments do not meet National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) 1720, which mandates four firefighters onsite before beginning an interior attack. Distributors can work with fire departments—especially those in smaller communities—on recruitment campaigns to ensure they have the necessary staff. 

Source: Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service

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The most law enforcement officers per capita are located in:

  • District of Columbia
  • New York
  • New Mexico
  • Texas
  • Louisiana

These states have the fewest law enforcement officers per capita:

  • Washington
  • Iowa
  • Utah
  • Alaska
  • Oregon

Source: WalletHub

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The most common industries for police officers include justice, public order and safety.

  • 85.3% of police officers are male
  • 77.1% of police officers are white
  • 13.3% are black
  • 2.6% are Asian
  • The median age of police officers is 39.5 

Source: Data USA

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Work with local hospitals, fire stations and police departments to celebrate first responders for these occasions:

January 9: National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day

May 4: International Firefighters Day

May 10-16: National Police Week

May 12: International Nurses Day

May 17-23: National EMS Week

October 28: National First Responders Day

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Kevin A. Tuohy, president of veteran- and firefighter-owned and operated supplier Adrenaline Challenge Coins, offers these insights:

Challenge coins are a popular item with first responders, but there is a world of opportunity beyond just selling to the city, county or state. Using a large fire department as an example (mine has 78 firehouses and over 1,200 sworn personnel and more than 1,500 total personnel), there are many subsets that buy their own coins. 

While our department has a "department coin," the fairly generic kind ordered by the overall organization and the kind of order we generally see from distributors, most chief officers will also make their own coin. In an organization like a fire department, there are at least 40 chief officers. Other units and divisions that we have made coins for include Air Operations, Dispatch/Communications Center, Urban Search and Rescue (USAR has multiple agencies represented and dispatched to major disasters worldwide), Incident Management Teams (normally comprised of members of several different entities that some of the biggest incidents anywhere in the nation), pipes and drums bands, sports teams and more. And then there is the ongoing influx of new recruits/rookies who usually create a coin for their own academy, which is given to family members, instructors, members of their crew, etc. Each of these groups will order between 100-500 coins specific to their group as well as to their agency.  

Most first responders will proudly wear or display items that are specific to their agency and will trade or gift with members of other agencies. Police are a little different. While very proud of their profession, they are less likely to wear items related to their profession because it can make them a target. But within their own circles or with trusted friends and family, and certainly within their own homes, they will proudly display memorabilia of their profession. While this could limit quantities sold to law enforcement, in most cities and counties the law enforcement agencies are roughly triple the size of the fire agencies, so sales are about equal.

In addition, there are many non-emergency events that are specific to first responders. California has the Fire & Police Olympics every summer, changing locations each year, and the U.S. Police and Fire Championships are held in various locations throughout the U.S. every summer. Every two years, in even-numbered years, the World Firefighter Games take place in a different city around the world and, in odd-numbered years, the World Police & Fire Games take place every two years in various locations around the world. The latter event is the granddaddy of them all and hosts from 5,000 to 12,000 competitors, rivaling the Olympic Games in number of competitors.

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First responders are extremely dedicated and proud of what they do, and love merchandise that recognizes that dedication and pride. A challenge coin fills the bill in every way. Every element of this brass challenge coin can be customized including shape, size, edge, color and finish.

Adrenaline Challenge Coins  /  PPAI 739012, S1  /  www.adrenalinechallengecoins.com

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Equip members of the police force with this essential badge case. This side-opening leather badge case features a badge cut-out section, suede badge cover and an ID window.

Strong Leather Co.  /  PPAI 113072, S5  /  www.strongleather.com

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Law enforcement can build goodwill at local schools with the trooper bear. Safe for children of all ages, this soft, eight-inch bear features a custom t-shirt showcasing a department’s logo or special messaging.

Artistic Toys & Promotions, LLC  /  PPAI 110753, S5  /  www.artistictoy.com

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An ideal giveaway for physicians’ offices is the emergency information magnet to keep medical information front and center for first responders. Add extra value by including kitchen measurement conversions. 

Ads On Magnets, LLC  /  PPAI 491494, S3  /  www.adsonmagnets.com

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Featuring a partially serrated stainless-steel blade, a double-edge seatbelt cutter and a glass breaker, the heavy-duty rescue knife is a must-have tool for first responders.

Utica Cutlery Co.  /  PPAI 113227, S4  /  www.uticaccpromo.com

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The Toughskin First-Aid Kit With Carabiner makes an ideal giveaway for community health programs. Ideal for travel, this portable case includes two interior flexible pockets. 

BIC Graphic NA  /  PPAI 114187, S13  /  www.bicgraphic.com

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Hospitals and clinics can help community members stock supplies that save lives with the Canyonlands Tritan First Aid Bottle Kit. This shatter-, stain- and odor-resistant water bottle includes a 25-piece first-aid kit and features a bottom compartment that can hold food.


Crown/IMAGEN Brands  /  PPAI 113430, S10   /  www.crownprod.com

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Thank first responders for their outstanding service with the Technica Onyx Medallion watch. This handsome stainless-steel timepiece can be customized with an engraving or imprint.

SELCO   /   PPAI 113845, S6  /  www.shop.selcotime.com

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Police officers, EMTs and other first responders need writing instruments they can count on, and the reliable, tough tools from the tactical collection are up to the task. These built-to-last writing instruments are American-made and feature textured aluminum caps.

Garland Writing Instruments  /  PPAI 113946, S7  /  www.garlandpen.com

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Fire stations can welcome new recruits with the 100-percent polyester FOTO-PLUSH throw, which features full color, edge-to-edge graphics. With a one-piece minimum and no set-up charges, it’s easy to give a gift anytime.

Pro Towels  /  PPAI 112755, S10   /  www.protowels.com

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Audrey Sellers is a Dallas-Fort Worth-area writer and former associate editor of PPB.

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