Suzanne Tyrrell was watching TV last winter when a news report flashed across the screen about life-saving efforts by firefighters who put their lives on the line to save others.
First responders’ heroics make the news occasionally, but Tyrrell felt inclined to do more than say “thanks” … something that would make a lasting impression.
She and her husband, Chandler, did a little brainstorming. Their thoughts soon turned to the service club in which they take a very active role: the Lincoln South Rotary Club.
They envisioned a luncheon gathering at which elected officials and community leaders would come together to pay tribute to some of Lincoln’s top first responders. They shared their vision with law enforcement leaders, who quickly pledged their support and agreed to nominate their leading first responders.
Organizing a 23-member committee chaired by Chandler Tyrrell, volunteers set an early-October date for the first Tribute to Lincoln’s First Responders. Volunteers booked the Grand Ballroom at the Cornhusker Marriott Hotel, and went to work selling table sponsorships priced at $1,500 and $690.
Getting 35 sponsors (including 11 Lincoln South Rotary Club members) to come on board, the Tyrrells and their team engineered an impressive event that drew 365 attendees, including 55 first responders.
Mission accomplished. An effort led by a small service club with 48 members had made a big impact.
In the process, Lincoln South Rotary presented three cash grants: $1,000 each to the Lincoln Police Department’s Shop with a Cop program and Lincoln Fire & Rescue’s Safe Kids of Lincoln & Lancaster County, and $6,591.56 to the Lincoln-Lancaster County Crime Stoppers program.
“In my forty-four years in law enforcement, this is the first major event of its kind for first responders,” said Tom Casady, Lincoln public safety director since 2011 and former Lincoln police chief. “The community support is felt by our first responders, and we thank you for that.”
Lincoln South Rotary Club President Suzanne Tyrrell cited the alarming number of national disasters in the past 18 months, including the mass shooting in Las Vegas, major hurricanes in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico, and most recently in the Carolinas, as well as massive wildfires that plague the western U.S.
“Nebraska Task Force One, a team of first responders including a large group from Lincoln, is called upon to go all over the country to help in times of disaster,” Tyrrell said. “And every single day, members of our police department, fire department, sheriff’s department, and the UNL police put their lives on the line to keep us all safe.”
She added: “We at Lincoln South Rotary felt it was time for our community to show our gratitude for the work of our first responders. There seem to be so many incidences that we become numb to the stories and take for granted the work of these women and men who risk their lives to save ours, and we forget to show our appreciation. This event is Lincoln’s way of saying thank you.”
Guest speakers for the Oct. 4 luncheon included Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler, Casady, Crime Stoppers Board President Dennis Duckworth, and Donde Plowman, executive chancellor and chief academic officer of academic affairs at UNL.
Mayor Beutler applauded the honorees in attendance for their dedication and performance.
“The extent of crime has dropped twenty-nine percent in Lincoln in the past decade,” said Beutler. “As you know, this isn’t a 9-to-5 job; it involves a lot of nights and weekends, which might mean missing that dance recital or that football game. Our first responders are to be commended for bringing a sense of calm to what is often a chaotic situation.”
He lauded Rotarians for taking the initiative and added, “This is a great idea of recognizing these neighborhood heroes.”
Will return in 2020
In a follow-up phone interview, project chairman Chandler Tyrrell confirmed that leaders met with Casady and decided the first responders’ luncheon will continue on an alternate-year basis, returning in 2020.
Tyrrell said a similar recognition event had been hosted by the Crime Stoppers, whose board decided to join forces with South Rotary to consolidate efforts and enlarge the affair.
Crime Stoppers Board President Dennis Duckworth said that in an average year, tips received by the local Crime Stoppers program usually help local law enforcement agencies solve about 225 crimes, lead to about 330 arrests and result in nearly $25,000 in reward money awarded to tipsters.
The Crime Stoppers program is funded by donors and foundation grants, Duckworth added.