What would you do if a horrific tragedy was staring you down?
None of us knows, but I’m convinced there are heroes walking among us. While most of us would follow the natural path of human nature and seek shelter or get as far away as possible from the event, there are others who run toward danger without regard for their personal safety or well being.
We are reminded of this daily as we watch public safety professionals across the nation facing insurmountable odds with unbridled courage and commitment.
Police and fire workers routinely charge toward situations that would cause many of us to seek cover and the safety that only distance can provide.
On September 11, 2001, thousands of these unsung heroes charged toward the World Trade Center after planes were used as bombs to attack our nation.
For many it was their last assignment, and the rescue/fire/police community suffered unimaginable losses as the towers collapsed.
To the man and woman, these individuals charged toward a dangerous situation, dismissing any concern for personal safety or well-being, and sacrificed their lives trying to save others.
We quickly and correctly labeled these first responders as heroes, a title richly earned and deserved.
Luis Alvarez was a New York Police Department detective who headed to Ground Zero as soon as he heard the call.
He spent the following weeks and months atop the massive pile of rubble that once was the WTC, assured by public officials the thick dusty air he was breathing was not toxic and did not present a threat to his health.
He was joined by thousands of workers who performed the difficult work of sifting through the rubble searching for human remains.
Turns out those guarantees of safety were, at best, ill informed, and Alvarez and hundreds of his co-workers became ill with serious health conditions, diseases that for all the world seemed related to their work at Ground Zero.
Alvarez fought a gallant battle with cancer for the last years of his life, coupled with what he called a war against those who would not concede the connection or those who refused to assist those workers.
Both battles culminated in the past few weeks. Last month, Alvarez accompanied Jon Stewart to a congressional hearing on extending the 9-11 fund for victims, and provided emotional testimony that surely moved the bar on this important issue.
“You all said you would never forget,” Alvarez told members of the Committee. “Well, I’m here to make sure that you don’t.”
Sadly, Alvarez, 53, lost his battle with cancer a few days later.
Hopefully, this public servant passed with the knowledge that many normal Americans consider him a courageous warrior who displayed uncommon valor in the face of adversity.
And to this everyday man, that makes him a true American hero.