What makes someone a hero? There have been times I have been called a hero. In my line of work being a paramedic, someone may come up to me during a parade and say this to me.  I always shrink at this label! Never, ever have I felt like a hero. Maybe because my concept of what a hero is may be different from theirs. Maybe because I feel what I do is my job. Maybe because I read about real heroes in the paper every day and know, that so far, what I do every day doesn’t compare.

Like today, in my local paper, I read again about a local family that just lost their home and entire contents in a house fire. But worse than  that, two lives were lost. One was a 24-year-old man, the other a 24 month old baby. In a distant way, I feel connected to the family as my first ambulance Chief is related to this family and the first service I worked for serves this town. The entire town is in mourning.

I read today how the Fire Marshall’s office believe the adult died. There were other adults in the house who got out, some of whom are still hospitalized. So I’m sure the unfolding investigation includes eye-witness accounts. This adult was already out of the house when he learned the baby was still inside. He went back in to save him. Hero? To me, this is the definition of a true hero.

And the accounts of the teacher during the Sandy Hook shooting that was found on top of her students. Her body protecting the little ones. Another hero laying down her life in the hopes of saving those with years ahead of them. She was young too. Or the principal and the others that charged the shooter. Some may feel they were stupid for doing such a thing. Were they? Or was it an instinctual reaction to save and protect those who could not defend themselves?

I’ve often wondered would I be so brave? If the time came to put myself in harm’s way to save someone else–would I do it? When my time came to really BE a hero, would I? Would I pull someone from a burning car, defend someone being hurt, protect an animal? I can only say I hope I would.

It is true that we in the emergency field are taught to think these types of emergencies through so we don’t get killed. “Scene safety” is the first thing we are taught. If we die, then no-one gets saved. One would like to think being a hero would include everyone coming out alive. But if push came to shove and there was no time to make all the right moves, then I hope I do the right thing whatever it took.

And until that time comes, if it ever does, I honor all the unsung heroes. The people who we don’t read about in the papers. The people who defend the honor of someone, that stop a bully, that step in if they see violence instead of looking the other way, that speak up even if it’s within one’s own family. These are our every day heroes and in a world that gets scarier, more violent and less friendly I would like to think that there are still decent people out there that have capes hidden under their coats.