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What exactly is a hero?

Published December 07. 2013 09:00AM

By Ron Gower

Ever since 9/11, it seems that the word "hero" has been used so frequently. Instead of merely referring to someone who does an heroic act as a "hero," we sometimes group entire vocations in the category such as firefighters and police officers.

There's no question that firefighters and police officers often perform heroic duties. Saving a house from burning down is an act of heroism, especially if you're the occupant. Yet, isn't that a fireman's job?

One dictionary definition of "hero" is "a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities."

Firefighters and police officers put their lives at risk every day simply by responding to calls. Yet, should a firefighter standing next to a piece of apparatus refilling the tankers with water be labeled the same as one who literally enters a burning building and physically saves someone?

This isn't to diminish the role of firefighters or police officers or anyone else who has heroic responsibilities.

But obviously someone - whether it be a firefighter or bystander - who jeopardizes their lives by entering that burning building to save a victim does deserve special recognition. It's above and beyond what's required of them.

There is no question that Bernard Kozen and Gerald J. Kozic were heroes. What they did was above and beyond everyday activity.

Both were at the Ross Township Municipal Building on Aug. 5 when Rockne Newell, a disgruntled township property owner, allegedly showed up at the meeting with guns and opened fire.

After Newell allegedly fired numerous shots from the parking lot into the building, he came into the meeting room. He told investigators he planned to kill more people, especially the township's solicitor, Attorney John Dunn.

Testimony at a hearing indicated that when Newell entered the room carrying a gun, Kozen, who was not armed and was smaller than the assailant, immediately attacked Newell. Kozen put an arm around Newell's neck and, with his other arm, grabbed for the gun.

He was able to prevent Newell from killing anyone else. Another individual in the room joined Kozen and disarmed him.

Prior to this, Newell had allegedly shot Kozic's wife, Linda, in the leg. Newell then fired more shots at Linda, but Gerald valiantly jumped between the shooter and his wife, taking the bullets allegedly intended for her.

Some people would refer to everyone in the meeting room as heroes, under the same definition as that everyone in the World Trade Center when planes crashed into two towers also were heroes.

Were they heroes because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time?

We must never take for granted the actions of individuals like Bernard Kozen and Gerald Kozik.

Every October, the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh recognizes "heroes." All the selectees are not individuals just "admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities," but an individual who goes beyond that - individuals like Bernard Kozen and Gerald Kozik.

Hopefully the Carnegie Institute is made aware of their sacrifices in Ross Township on Aug. 5, and how they save the lives of other through their own sacrifice.

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