The story of Nick Beauschene’s recent near-drowning in the quarries in Hallowell prompted me to finally write down my feelings about our society’s fascination with heroes in the post Sept. 11 era. I am a volunteer firefighter in Sabattus. I’ve been on the Sabattus Fire Department for more than 20 years. I am not a hero.

After Sept. 11, our country was clamoring for something, anything, to grasp onto to help us believe we could once again be safe. We needed a sense of strength and security. We needed an image of safety. Many people looked to our public safety people – firefighters in particular – to latch onto, especially after so many had lost their lives in the World Trade Center in a valiant effort to rescue as many people as they could.

An outpouring of support for a country’s firefighters soon followed. Schoolchildren made posters for us, drawing pictures of firefighters saving people, dogs, cats, houses, etc. Many departments around the country no doubt found fund raising to be easier than ever dreamt. A new respect for firefighters evolved, and even in the face of such disastrous consequences, many young men and women became interested in career opportunities in the fire service.

Yet, for most of the country’s fire departments, especially the small-town volunteers, time has cleared the smoke of Sept. 11 and we are, for the most part, back to normal. We still train (although now we include training on large-scale disasters, just in case), we still go to meetings and we still answer the calls for smoke investigations, downed power lines, motor vehicle accidents and the occasional structure fire. And, occasionally, a volunteer firefighter somewhere performs a heroic, spur-of-the-moment action to help save someone’s life or house.

I have never done that.

We train for the possibility of a disaster. We train by learning procedures to follow, safety guidelines to protect us, and various levels of awareness. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Fire Protection Association have standards we are required to adhere to under normal operating procedures. When all else fails, or when the right pieces to the puzzles aren’t in the right places, we must decide in split seconds how to overcome adversities. Sometimes this means going beyond the normal safety standards, even though we may be jeopardizing our own lives.

I don’t think I’ve ever gone that far.

Sometimes there are instances when we simply have to use our training to help save a life or rescue someone or something from a dangerous environment. I say “simply,” but it may be more than that. I am CPR certified, but for anyone who has ever taken a CPR course, we know the likelihood of having to actually perform CPR on someone is extremely remote. I know a former Sabattus firefighter who had to decide on the spot what to do when a man was suffering a heart attack in the Ash Street post office in Lewiston a few years ago. He reacted perfectly, keeping the man alive with CPR until the medical responders arrived. I’ve never performed CPR, and I don’t know what would happen if I ever was called upon to.

Nick Beauschene hit the water in those quarries hard, and possibly could have drowned. As Nick’s mother said, had it not been for Brent Dube’s quick thinking and action, she may have been planning a funeral for her son. Brent did what I, and most likely many other volunteers, wonder if I could do. How will we react when real trouble is upon us? When we have just a split second to decide? Will we remember our training while we assess the situation, or will we lose our concentration? Will we be able to keep our composure and help remedy the situation?

I know Brent Dube. I have known him since he was a baby. I knew him when he was a Little Leaguer, I knew him when he was a high school athlete, and now I know him as a hero. Brent Dube is a legitimate hero.

A hero responds to a bad situation extremely quickly, sometimes without regard for his or her own safety. Heroes sometimes go beyond their own personal limitations or fears. A hero does more than take orders and follow them.

My father was a veteran of World War II. He served in the Navy in the South Atlantic on an oiler. He may have done a very important job in the war effort, but I do not consider him a hero.

Brent Dube is a hero. Brent, in jumping off the cliff into the water and pulling his sinking, unconscious friend up from below the surface, went the extra mile. Brent performed flawlessly what many of us wonder if we could do. He really saved a life. Heroically.

Jon Mennealy is a volunteer firefighter in the Sabattus Fire Department.

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