By Chris Foreman, Case Investigator
Carnegie Hero Fund Commission
Some days, it seems like there is no shortage of heroes in the headlines. In recent weeks, I’ve spotted news websites with large followings apply the “hero” tag to a Maine diner owner who yelled at a crying 21-month-old girl; a Colorado man who ate lunch at a Mexican fast-food chain for 100 straight days; and a U.S. soccer star who shunned her heels after an awards show to go barefoot.
Clearly, each example is a mind-bendingly casual use for a title that shouldn’t be tossed around so flippantly. Since starting with the Hero Fund as a case investigator in May 2015, I’m surrounded daily by stories of heroism—and I’m finding myself much more careful when I use the word “hero.”
As I’m learning, most of the people that the Commission recognizes as heroes receive just a sliver of the public attention—and often a morsel of the praise—that is bestowed upon celebrities and athletes. But it’s our medal recipients’ acts that deserve to be recorded, retold, and shared widely. It’s these types of stories—those about people freely choosing to make themselves vulnerable to help someone in dire need—that lured me from a nearly 14-year career as a newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania and Ohio to join the Commission.
I’m impressed by the commitment that our staff puts into researching a heroic act. This isn’t just a matter of rubber-stamping a rescuer’s reputed performance as some feel-good notion. Investigators are tasked with recreating the setting of an act so the Commission’s board members fully may appreciate the risks involved. This includes factors like the hazardous conditions, the availability of rescue aids, and the health and skills of those performing the heroic act.
In doing so, sometimes we encounter the involvement of another rescuer who never before received credit in the public eye. Sometimes, we find that the scene was even more imposing than initially reported, or that an act was even more remarkable because of a hero’s physical limitations. Through our investigations, we also learn about the fallout long after the news reporters disappear, when some of our heroes continue to experience pain or need more medical treatment simply to return to some semblance of normalcy after offering to sacrifice themselves for another.
The mass media might indeed devalue the word “hero,” but they cannot diminish the clout of a heroic act. In our work, we see proof of that in the lives that are changed when somebody shakes aside fear and doubt to insert themselves into danger.
These are the heroes whose stories I’m gratified to discover, study, and share.