In the United States, we often lose sight of how fortunate we are to have highly trained first responders in nearly every community, ready and willing to put their own lives on the line to help others in their time of need.

Despite living as far in the woods as I can muster while still maintaining a tenuous grip on the technological necessities of modern life, I had the privilege of seeing my community’s first responders in action twice over the past year.  First, when I ran to the scene of a terrible car accident near my home, and felt a wave of relief wash over me as the first police officers and EMTs arrived to care for the wounded men I and other bystanders had pulled from their burning vehicles. Second, only weeks later, when my own home was the target of an arson attack.

In both instances, my community’s first responders meant the very real difference between life and death for some involved, and in both instances they received very little fanfare in the local media in the days that followed.  I’ve often been patted on the back for the small role I played in the incident–you can see this picture I snapped once we were clear of the fire and waiting for the ambulances to arrive. However, the police, EMTs and firefighters that were tasked with braving the blaze, getting the men to safety and clearing the road for the long line of annoyed and ungrateful drivers amassing on either side of the incident tend to be expected to perform such heroic tasks, often without so much as a thank you.

In the U.S., we tend to pride ourselves in our work ethic and we expect the same in others–maybe that’s why we dismiss the heroic acts that take place on our city streets every day all over the country as men and women who are “just doing their jobs,” but I think it’s more than that.

When my house was on fire, and I stood there in the bushes at midnight, half drunk, scared for the safety of my family and using a garden hose to try to keep the fire from spreading until rescue could arrive. That same sense of relief washed over me as I heard the sirens in the distance.  That wailing meant rescue was coming, my family would be okay and if we were lucky, our house just might make it through intact–but it never crossed my mind to catch any of their names, to take a video of them saving my home or to upload it for the world to see.  Instead, as soon as they set about putting out the fire, I ran to my wife, checking her over for injuries before trying to account for our pets. And just like that, they were gone.

The team of first responders that saved my home and took my report didn’t hang around to bask in our appreciation and gratitude.  They put the fire out, introduced me to the arson investigator and drove off into the night.  Just like that.  No bill, no expectations: just help and that’s it.

Maybe if there were more pictures and videos circulating the web of these men and women saving our lives and livelihoods, we’d develop a better appreciation for the work that they do–and since I don’t have any videos of my own to share, I’ll leave you with this.