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Personal Stories

Who is a Hero?

I served for more than twenty years on my local Red, White and Blue Volunteer Fire Department before it went paid.
They were some of my best times in Breckenridge, not least because I met my wife there.
I fell through a weakened staircase at a house fire in the 1990s, distinctly remembering details of my life flashing impossibly 
fast through my brain during the second it took to land in the embers of the fire’s origin.
I’ve often wondered since what the human brain is truly capable of.

It’s been two decades since I hung up my gear, but a firefighter’s death is still hard for me, as it is for every firefighter.
I suppose it will always be. I’ve paid my respects at Storm King Mountain, the Twin Towers and Yarnell,
knowing that fate could have chosen me.
Our neighboring department lost a firefighter in the line of duty this past December.
This time I wrote a story in the form of a letter to the editor of our local paper.

Who is a hero? One definition can be found in citations for the Medal of Honor. But you don’t have to throw yourself on a grenade, sacrifice yourself so your buddies can escape or expose yourself to withering fire to rescue a comrade to be a hero.

Heroism is a combination of love, selflessness and sacrifice - putting someone or something above yourself. Most parents are heroes. Kids without one or both understand that best. But you don’t have to be a parent to be a hero either.

It has become fashionable to recognize and thank firefighters, police and veterans for their service. It was different for veterans in the Vietnam era. The recognition is appreciated but most, especially firefighters, are embarrassed by the attention. It’s what they do. It’s who they are. They don’t think of themselves as heroes – a little crazy sometimes, but not heroes.

No firefighter enters a burning structure, wiggles through broken cars and bodies, exposes themselves to unknown disease or steps out onto a slippery roof thinking they won’t survive. No New York firefighter entered the World Trade Center expecting to be turned into a pile of dust. No Hot Shot expects to be burned alive. No Aid Worker expects to contract Ebola.

But it happens.

Summit Fire & EMS Firefighter Ken Jones fell to his death stepping out onto a six story roof fighting a fire in Copper Mountain last week, leaving behind a widow and two young children.

Respect the quiet dignity, as well as the suffering, of the tight knit firefighting and EMS community as they go about doing what must be done. Contribute to the fund to help his widow and kids through their tough time ahead. Pay tribute to Firefighter Jones. To quote perhaps our greatest President at Gettysburg, “it is altogether fitting and proper” to do so.

But honor him with an unselfish moment of your own. It’s not hard. There’s no measuring stick for being unselfish. Pick up a piece of trash that you might normally ignore or hold your temper next time someone cuts you off in traffic. Spend more time with your children. Volunteer for Big Brothers or Sisters, Advocates for Victims of Assault or to be a youth sports coach. All it requires is a conscious decision and no expectation of recognition.

Do it again. And again. And again. It may become a habit. Our world could use more heroes like Ken Jones.

On August 5, 1986 Harold Siewers and three other members of a BLM helicopter quick response fire crew died when their helicopter struck an unmarked high tension power line. Harold was a friend and fellow firefighter on the Red, White and Blue who was enjoying the summer gig to make money to continue his Forestry degree in college. There’s no official marker at the crash site in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River east of Montrose, Colorado. But there is a welcoming stone bench I’m sure left by the crew tasked with body and debris removal. It invites you to sit and count your blessings in a beautifully serene setting. Rest in peace Harold.
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