The word “hero” is bandied about loosely. We use it for cops, teachers, soldiers, pilots. We attach it to anyone who does something we agree with in a loud fashion. Those that stand up to people we disagree with also often earn that label, at least in our minds. There is one group, perhaps conspicuous in their absence in the list above, that deserves it more than most others though: volunteer firefighters.
I write this mere hours after three firefighters and a policeman were shot while responding to a fire. Two of them lost their lives. I have discussed before our propensity to heap worship on both law enforcement and the military. I have questioned this while, I hope, acknowledging the challenges they have to face. Volunteer firefighter’s, however, are at a whole different level.
Putting aside this particularly terrible event, these men and women put themselves in harm’s way without any expectation of pay. Many, if not all, do so out of a sense of community that we rightly point out is sorely lacking in our society. Say what you will about the foolhardiness and recklessness of those who sacrificed themselves on 9/11, and I have, but even when they have all their ducks in a row, their lives are in real danger, and we should appreciate that.
I am still uncertain about the word “hero.” We use it to easily without thinking of what it means, though I am inclined to believe it applies here. They set an amazing example we could all learn from. I am not suggesting we all need to possess that particular brand of bravery that allows some individuals to be willing to pay the ultimate price for our safety, but the very act of volunteering is a worthy one. If you cannot join a fire department, how about helping with a food shelf, read to disadvantaged children in the public library, aid in cleaning up our parks, or any other in a wide array of activities to make our towns, villages, cities and neighborhoods communities. They set the bar high, the least we could do is jump.