The horrible events that unfolded in Aurora, Colo. one week ago prove that we don't have to look to Hollywood, or to a concert stage or sporting event to find real heroes in our society.

The emergency response teams, including police, firefighters, paramedics, doctors and other medical workers were once again incredibly proficient in handling the crisis situation. Although it was reported yesterday that some ambulance crews did not immediately grasp the scope of the mass shooting in the suburban Denver theater due to the heavy radio traffic, the majority of trained personnel went into casualty response mode from the moment they heard the 911 dispatch.

Since the shootings 13 years earlier at Columbine High School, just 17 miles away, emergency responders in Aurora, and in towns and cities across this country, have gone through intensive drills. Thankfully, the emergency workers are highly trained and well-equipped to handle the serious situations.

Still, nothing could prepare a person for the kind of gruesome scene which confronted responders at the Aurora theater. Seeing bloodied children, hearing the sobs and screams for help, and having to deal with the raw emotions of that real world situation couldn't have been simulated in drills.

When some officers at the Aurora tragedy found there was a shortage of ambulances on scene, they quickly adapted by placing some of the first victims evacuated from the theater in the back seat of their police cruisers and rushing them to a hospital.

Seconds after the shooting and before the first help arrived, the survivors were the first to tend to the wounded. One was Eric Hunter, a radiology technician who had been watching the Batman movie in the theater next to the shooting. He and an off-duty paramedic aided two terrified teenage girls, one of whom had been shot in the face.

There are other stories of incredible bravery, spontaneous acts most often associated with our military heroes during times of battle. Ordinary people who were there just to watch a movie that evening found themselves shielding their loved ones with their own bodies and even laying down their lives for persons they didn't even know.

Here are a few examples:

Jonathan Blunk, a 26-year-old Navy veteran, died while shielding his girlfriend from bullets with his own body. Matt McQuinn, 27 and Alex Teves, 24, also died after shielding their girlfriends.

Stephanie Davis, 21, dropped down to the floor where Allie Young, 19, was bleeding from a bullet wound to the neck. Allie told her to run to save herself from the gunshots but Stephanie stayed there, applying pressure to the wound even as the gunman kept shooting. Both young women survived.

The names of Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson and now Aurora are forever etched in the history of our infamous, uncertain times. The death counts in these horrible shootings would have been higher had it not been for the true American heroes those emergency responders, hospital personnel and ordinary people who thankfully walk among us.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com