Nineteen years ago today, most Americans gained an unprecedented level of respect for the men and women who respond to emergencies.

After the jets struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, hundreds of firefighters, police and emergency personnel rushed into the buildings in hopes of saving lives. At the Twin Towers in New York, 412 of them lost their own lives in the process.

Much changed in this country after 9-11. The attacks brought on two seemingly endless wars, which have affected thousands of American military families. It resulted in significant changes in our approaches to national security, as well as personal and collective safety. Each time we wait through an airport checkpoint, we are reminded of that new normal.

The blinders came off, as we realized we were not insulated within our own borders from the volatility of world affairs.

Our current generation of young adults has never known anything but that normal. There’s never been a world without the specter of 9-11. And just as they come of age, another wraith has arrived in the form of a global pandemic.

For perspective, nearly 3,000 people died from the terror on 9-11. To date, more than 191,000 Americans have died from complications related to the novel coronavirus. The worldwide figure tops 900,000.

While the events of 2001 and those of 2020 are decidedly different, both have upended our comfort zones with their deadly consequences. We hope they remind people of the fragility of life and the need to protect one another.

That’s what first responders do every day. They represent our immediate line of defense in times of personal and community crises.

As with any person, they are not always perfect. Some recent high-profile examples remind us that public servants must be held accountable for actions incongruous with their duties. More often than not, however, they fulfill that responsibility with dedication, diligence and selflessness.

In the face of COVID-19, that means placing themselves in harm’s way each time they respond to a call, be it medical, crime or any other situation involving the public. Even with universal precautions in place, they face risk of contracting COVID-19 through direct personal contact with members of the public.

So on this 19th anniversary of a milestone in American life, let us again remember those first responders who lost their lives in New York. Let us also honor those who continue to stand up to protect and aid on an ongoing basis. Firefighters, paramedics, emergency room personnel, police and others charged with guarding our safety and wellbeing, we salute you.