"I didn't have any choice. They sank my boat."
--John F. Kennedy when asked how he became a war hero.
You may have heard the heartfelt praise that Charleston, S.C., Fire Chief Russell "Rusty" Thomas heaped upon the nine firefighters who died a week ago today. The tributes were certainly merited, but let's remember that every man and woman who fights fires is heroic.
Most of what we call heroism is reactive--like JFK's exploits after his PT boat was cut in two by a Japanese destroyer. I do not mean to belittle such exploits; many people faced with a sudden challenge fail the test. But there is a special kind of courage in the person who knows there is danger and goes forward to meet it.