Last Friday was the worst nightmare come true for our little nation. This abominable act was without precedent in this part of the world, and as a people, our hearts pour out love and hope to those affected by this evil man-made tragedy.

During all this however, there were those whose job it was to "run towards" the shooting, and provide on the ground support to those caught up in this maelstrom of hate.

Our emergency services are genuine heroes. Day after day they have to cope with the worst that is New Zealand, yet get up the next morning and do it all over again.

Our society so often celebrates the wrong things. We honour celebrities, sports stars and business people, whose own lives are falling apart, while at the same time, neglect those who actually hold the fabric of our society together.

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Our emergency services, including the Police, Fire Department, Ambulance Service, chopper pilots, search and rescue teams, military personnel and so many more, are the ones standing in the gap when we can't (or choose not) to be there.

Earlier this month I was driving on a small back road in the country, turned a corner and came face to face with a rescue helicopter, St Johns Ambulance and fire truck all in the middle of the tiny rural road. It turned out that a guy had had a bad fall, and the entire ensemble of emergency services were there to look after him. After witnessing their professional and friendly support of this person and his family, I thought to myself "we live in the best country in the world."

Looking further, I was disappointed to see that the ambulance had been tagged all over in graffiti. However after reading messages such as "we love our job, but not our pay", I realised it was the paramedics themselves who had written on their ambulance, reminding us that they believe New Zealand's Ambulance Professionals are among the lowest paid in the developed world.

As well as this, the lad stopping rural traffic was a Waiuku-based volunteer firefighter.

Out where I live, the people that are the first responders to our car crashes, house fires and tragic incidents are unpaid volunteers, sacrificing time with their own family and friends, to selflessly give to ours in our most desperate hour of need.

We also live in a culture where some members of our community feel it's okay to assault paramedics who are attempting to save a person's life, as well as abuse Police because they feel they are impeding on their own rights, even when they are doing something illegal.

When you next see a first responder, please take the time to say "thank you" to them. These are the people we rely on to support us during our darkest times as individuals, communities and as a nation. They will undoubtedly need our support after this terrible and evil event that has forever changed our country.

Tom O'Neil is a career coach, writer and speaker. Contact him at CV.CO.NZ