Opinion: Another Type of Hero

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These six men had no context for acting heroically, they just did what needed to be done.

Say the word “hero” and many thoughts come to mind. You might think of our military personnel, the men and women in our armed forces defending our way of life. You might also think of our first responders, the men and women who rush into harm’s way whether behind a badge, in an ambulance, or carrying fire hoses into buildings. Some might think of sports stars or leaders in other fields who do large and extraordinary things. And depending on where you’ve lived and what you’ve eaten, the word “hero” might get you thinking about lunc—what we call a hoagie. 

But recently, when I think of a hero, Brian Pineda, Corel Jackson, Julius Walker, Tereese Bell, Kenny Arnold, and Ray Martinez come to mind. They are not famous and to my knowledge, they are not currently serving in the military or as first responders, nor are they big-name athletes or industry leaders. As far as I know, they are regular citizens living in the Bridgeton community and while I know little about them, I do know that on one recent day, October 30, they were heroes.

Few know about them because what they did occured on Walnut Street in the Milltown section of the community on a Monday morning at about 10 a.m.—not exactly prime time. Few know because for the most part, the biggest headlines are reserved for crimes committed, jury verdicts, tragedies of one sort or another with an occasional police raid thrown in for good measure. By those lights, who could be blamed for thinking our days are filled with criminality and bad luck?

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But things are never quite that simple and the community, any community really, is far more than the sum total of their juiciest headlines. A community is its people in all their complexity, a mixture that includes acts of desperation, a thousand daily routines, and moments of heroism. On the street, we never know when those moments, at least the heroic ones, are going to arise and we mostly just react to things, sometimes without thoughts of self-preservation.

I suspect this was the case for Brian Pineda, Corel Jackson, Julius Walker, Tereese Bell, Kenny Arnold and Ray Martinez that Monday morning. Living in and around the Milltown neighborhood, they were each going about their daily business, in their own way, when they became aware of the smoke coming from the roof line of a house in the 100 block of Walnut Street. They knew that the occupant, a long-time resident, was elderly and quite possibly in trouble.

These individuals responded and got involved…they cared. But here’s the thing, unlike our armed forces and first responders whose heroism stems from a carefully considered choice, informed by months of training and years of experience, backed by laws and legislation, and nourished by their own unique cultures, these men had no context for acting heroically; they just did what needed to be done.

Banging on the door to get the occupant’s attention, they ultimately forced their way into the home and found the elderly occupant in the front of the house watching TV, unaware that an exhaust fan malfunctioned at the rear of the house. Had they not responded, it is likely that there would have been a fully involved house fire and at that point, who knows how things might have ended.

But it ended alright, as one of them called the fire department while the others simultaneously ushered the occupant to safety and waited until firefighters came. To me, that was heroic because while the fire was not fully involved or even close to that level of intensity, they didn’t know that when they went into the house.

The other thing I noted was the diversity. Those responding were a mix of races and ethnicities. This may not seem like anything, but when some dismiss diverse neighborhoods or even whole communities as “unsafe,” sometimes the code language for race and ethnicity—it matters that our everyday heroes came from all backgrounds. 

It matters because here in the Milltown neighborhood, in Bridgeton, where we’ve had our share of headlines and the negative perceptions that come with those headlines—for one day at least—we also had heroes and that’s no small thing.

We intend to recognize Brian Pineda, Corel Jackson, Julius Walker, Tereese Bell, Kenny Arnold and Ray Martinez publically at an upcoming City Council meeting.

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