The headline of an Associated Press release reads, "Man cited for rescuing dog from burning building."
While growing up in London in the 40's and 50's it was not unusual to hear of individual heroism - a lone policemen returning to a burning building time and time again to carry out children and then returning for the family pet or a firefighter, (Firemen, as the British call them) using a borrowed wooden ladder to climb into an upper window of a burning house to carry someone's grandmother to safety long before the water hoses or equipment could be unpacked.
I remember people being evacuated from their houses in my neighborhood while a 1000 lb. unexploded bomb was defused and hauled away without ceremony in the back of a truck. Someone had found it while recycling bricks from the rubble left by the London Blitz of WW2 (It took 20 years to clean up the devastation after that war). It was not unusual for people to find unexploded bombs in those days but the people who defused them were unusual. They would dig a trench around the bomb, disable the detonation device and hoist it on to the truck with the explosive still inside. No safety equipment and very few tools. Instinctively we kids knew that the men sitting in the back of the truck with that bomb were brave. We didn't use the word hero, that was reserved for a select few who knowingly sacrificed themselves to save a stranger, but we looked up to those people and felt safe when they were around and in those days there seemed to be plenty of them around. It was expected for a policeman or fireman to be courageous, for if he weren't he would cast shame on the entire force. A man didn't take one of those jobs if he didn't have the guts to do it.
Back to April 2003 - Nashville, "Man cited for rescuing dog from burning building" was one small step to officially degrade an unselfish act of bravery to the status of a crime. The man, Jerrod T Martin 26, lived in an apartment which had caught fire and he had left his dog in his haste to escape. By the time he realized that the dog hadn't got out, police and firefighters were securing the scene. Sensing that the dog would perish and being told by emergency personnel that a rescue attempt could not be made for safety reasons, Martin disobeyed police orders, crossed the safety line, climbed the outside of the building to break a window to recover the dog. Police spokesman Don Aaron said, "Officers and firefighters agree that Martin made the wrong decision, which jeopardized lives." Firefighters said they knew the dog was in the apartment and would have made a rescue attempt when it could be done safely.
It is understandable, that emergency personnel were reluctant to risk injury for a dog and they may have felt obligated to risk danger had Martin become trapped or injured but to react the way they did cast shame on all emergency personnel everywhere. It is an insult to every firefighter who is prepared to die for others and every police officer who has fallen in the line of duty. It was obviously a mistake to label everyone in uniform a hero when men in whom we trust degrade a courageous attempt to save an animal's life when they were unable to find the grit or will to do it themselves. If their example catches on it will soon be unlawful to save children - a courageous parent will be forced to stand by while egotistical cowards in uniform run around looking important and making sure there is no risk. Nashville emergency service agencies have had a dark cloud of uncertainty cast upon their willingness to protect lives and property. A firefighter or police officer that lacks courage is like a teacher who cannot read. They should not be doing the job.