What Makes A Hero?
Listening to the radio yesterday while driving through Missouri, I heard a report about a woman who had an auto accident near the city of Alton. Somehow, she left the roadway and ended up in the flooded Mississippi river. A passerby witnessing the accident pulled off the road, jumped from his car and ran to the river bank. Looking down into the muddy river he could see the car beginning to sink. Taking only a moment to gauge the raging waters below, he quickly dove in and managed to pull the injured woman from her sinking car and bring her safely ashore despite the strong current!
I thought about the incident as I drove, and ran different scenarios through my mind as I imagined how things may have taken place. Before too much longer I arrived at a bridge that crosses the Mississippi, and glancing down while driving over it I was stunned to see how flooded the river was and how swiftly the muddy debris filled water was moving. All of the scenarios I’d imagined earlier had to be changed after seeing the river because there was no way that I could imagine anyone diving into that water! What the man did was nothing short of heroic, and it made me wonder if I would have had that much courage myself when every ounce of common sense inside me said “no way”!
Later that evening while sitting with my 5 year old niece, who I adore, she asked me what my website was about, and so I told her I write stories about heroes. Her little face lit up as she replied, “You mean like superman?” I laughed a bit, shook my head and replied, no honey, I write stories about, real heroes, not make believe ones. She looked puzzled, so I tried to explain.
I started by asking her if she knew what a hero was. Tilting her head while grinning up at me as if I was an idiot, she responded by telling me “Heroes are people like Spiderman that are real strong and can fly. They save people and dogs.” Her answer was about what I expected, and, while it did make me chuckle, it also made me wonder about a few things, so I decided to pursue the subject a bit further. “Not those kinds of heroes, I said, but real heroes – people who do good things like saving people’s lives. Don’t you think those are heroes too?” “Stop being a silly Uncle Jamey”, she giggled, “Those are just regular people doing great things, not real heroes like Spiderman! “This is what pushed me to wonder about a few things I had believed in, but never really given a lot of thought to.
Would I Have Done What The Man At The River Did?
Are heroes born or are they created? Is it something that is just inherently inside a person, or is it possible that someone who has no intentions of ever doing something heroic could simply just end up in a situation that turns them into a hero? I started to think back to the river incident, and asked myself- “Would I have jumped into the raging flood water to save that woman?”
I know with certainty that I have saved the lives of many people throughout my years as a Paramedic, and I recall many a time when a victim would have surely died had I not been there to provide treatment. Looking back though, it occurred to me that I’d never been involved in a situation that involved heroism. I was only doing what I was trained to do, and it was my job to do it.
One of the most important things Public Safety responders are taught is to always watch out for the safety of yourself and your crew first, and then take care of those you are trying to rescue. We are taught to never put the life of our patients or others before our own. What this means is that we are to always make sure the scene is safe, and if not, our first goal is to make the scene safe.
Police officers are trained to secure and neutralize unsafe situations in the safest manner possible and to always weigh the consequences of a situation by the benefits. In other words, an officer is taught to use every safety precaution available and to use forethought before making a move.
Firemen, being trained along the same lines, always use safety precautions before entering burning buildings. Fire retardant clothing, breathing apparatus, tools, and knowledge are only a part of what they have to arm themselves with. When they go into a burning building, they know that they, and their crew, have taken every available measure to ensure their own safety first.
Every branch of Public Safety is trained to put safety first. It’s what ensures that they are able to do their job and live to be able to do it again the next time as well.
So What Makes Someone Become A Hero?
After talking to my niece, I had to ask myself a question. What if a trained rescue diver had witnessed the woman’s car going into the river? What would he have done, and would the outcome be the same or different? Would the rescue diver have taken the time for precautionary measures they are trained to take before diving into the flooded river? I believe he/she would have. Here’s what I think may have happened in that case:
The diver sees the accident. They pull over to help, but not before contacting local 911 or dispatch. Next, they would have put on any safety equipment they happened to have with them, perhaps even grabbing ropes and life preservers. Before entering the river they would use precious moments to think through the situation, tie themselves off to a tree, and take every other possible safety precaution in order to help ensure their own survival first. It’s just what they are trained to do, and it is what everyone else in Public Safety is trained to do as well.
So, does it make a difference in whether or not a person should be considered a hero if they utilize their training to ensure their own safety before they rescue someone? What if both results were the same? The untrained man simply jumped into the water without thought for his own safety, yet was still able to save the woman, while the trained professional would have taken the time to set up safety procedures before doing the same. Does that mean they are both heroes, even though the trained person used a few “cheats”? Does that make him less of a hero?
Now let’s think back again. Would the trained diver have gone in to rescue the woman if he had no training to do so? If not, then I think it may define what a hero really is. Could it be that a hero is someone who risks their own life in order to save another’s? Someone who acts on sheer instinct and goes in regardless of the outcome to their own wellbeing?
Is it possible to create a hero by giving them the training, tools, and knowledge needed to perform a rescue and still insure their own safety? Or, is a real hero one who would run into a burning building with the odds of returning stacked highly against them. Is the real hero one who would have performed the rescue with or without training? If so, that means that a real hero is one who would risk their own life to save another without regard to their own safety.
Heroes arose and tragically, many heroes surrendered their lives on that tragic September morning. Office workers, cooks, and passers-by went into the chaos and smoke alongside the brave police and firefighters that day, as they risked their lives, and in many cases gave their lives in order to save others. Trained rescuer workers by the score marched into the buildings to try to save the lives of those still inside – despite knowing that the buildings could very likely collapse. Many of those rescuers gave their lives that day doing the job they were trained to do.
What Defines A Hero?
After giving that question a great deal of thought, I think a hero is best defined as a person that, in a time of crisis, has an overwhelming urge to save the life of another. Whether trained or not, a true hero will see a situation and every ounce of their being tells them to go and help. Perhaps training can offer tools to be a hero more safely, but I do not think it takes away from the basic instinct a hero has to save the life of another.
In the World Trade Center tragedy, we saw trained rescuers put themselves into a situation where the odds of surviving were enormously stacked against them. I believe these people would have done the same, with or without any professional training. Although their training gave them the ability to save even more lives that day, it was not that training that made them run into a situation of almost certain death. It was something deep within themselves that they would not have been able to resist. It was the hero inside them that walked them up to those buildings, and despite any fears they had, it pushed them further and forced them to give whatever it took to save the life of another.
Heroism is something inside a person that takes over in a time of crisis. In an emergency situation, it dampens fear’s ability to deter them and it pushes them to give anything and everything to see another survive.
My niece was right in her answer. Heroes are regular people that do great things.