My hero for today

Mike Terwilliger, Truckee Fire Department

Like all of you I hear the term hero on a regular basis. We refer to our favorite sports star as a hero, or an actor who makes a good movie as a hero.

I don’t really know if those occupations fall under the definition of a hero in the good old Funk and Wagnall’s, but they don’t do it for me.

I suppose I have chosen an occupation that generates heroes from time to time, simply because we are there to make the right decision that can have a positive outcome for somebody else, but in this field you will find only reluctance for the title. It really does not matter what your definition of a hero is, but we use the term so frequently that it takes quite a feat of daring and skill to get the label “hero.”

And therein lies the problem, and my issue in this article. So stay with me and learn about my hero today.

I think the best way to tell you about my hero is to let you read the letter he wrote for the fire department. It is called “The Fire In The Neighborhood.”

“I just got done playing basketball with my friends. I was walking home, then I saw it. I saw sparks coming from the vent up by the roof. It became flames as I ran towards my house. I ran in and yelled to my dad saying ‘there’s a house on fire!’ My dad got up and yelled to my mom saying call 911, then she did. As my dad was running towards the house on fire, my mom was calling 911. My dad ran to our house to get a hose then he ran back to the burning house. My dad hooked up the hose and put it out. The Fire department came and checked the house out and it was okay because of my mom calling 911 and my dad for putting the fire out and because I saw the fire and told my parents.

So, today my hero is Martin Pearson, age 11. He is in the fifth grade in Mrs. Kuttle’s class, and this fire was on May 20, 2003.”

As you read this you might be thinking ‘how in the world could I call Martin a hero?’

Glad you asked. First, he saw the fire, but had the presence of mind to tell an adult, preferably his folks, what he saw.

He also chose to take action instead of doing what he wanted to do with his time. He actually cared enough about someone else to help. In our society today, I consider that an accomplishment worth mentioning.

His quick decision allowed his father the time to put out the fire before it did significant damage or hurt someone. Hidden within this statement is a pet peeve of mine. You read about fires all the time and if no people are hurt, then all went well. What is not said is how many firefighters were injured putting out the fire, searching a building for occupants long gone, and the long-term impact the fire has on their health.

We are supposed to take risk, but fires are dangerous and we get hurt all the time. Martin’s quick action minimized the exposure my firefighters might have experienced if the fire was allowed to escalate.

Secondly, and this speaks volumes about Martin’s character, Martin finishes the letter by describing first what good things his mom and dad did before he mentions himself. Humility is a largely missing in this day and age, and when I see it in someone so young, it is all the more rewarding.

Did Martin put himself in harm’s way, carry a football faster than others, or act in a really good movie? No, but what he did was wake me up to the realization that I hang the term hero on way too many people and not always for the right things.

We focus on the negative things in life and not enough on the positive and we confuse skill, charisma, and talent for heroism. So for today, Martin, you are my hero. You allowed my firefighters the opportunity to serve another day and you set an example for us all to follow.

Michael S. Terwilliger is fire chief of the Truckee Fire Protection District

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