Among the 2,977 people killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 were 411 men and women who perished not because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, but because courage, compassion and senses of duty would not allow them to escape death.
They were firefighters, police officers and paramedics who died in and near the World Trade Center in New York City on 9/11. While civilians by the thousands were fleeing the site of the terrorist attack, these brave souls were striding resolutely into the chaos.
No one who has seen pictures of the "first responders" can question their bravery. Their faces show they understood full well they were putting their lives on the line.
We can never know with certainty how many lives the firefighters, police officers and paramedics saved that day in New York. But beyond any doubt, hundreds of people alive today would not have survived the attack had the first responders not rescued them. Stories of heroism and self-sacrifice - of steadiness in the face of terror - abound from 9/11.
Here in our area, thousands of men and women who serve as firefighters, law enforcement officers and paramedics stand ready to do precisely what their fallen comrades in New York did that day. Much of the safety we take for granted is owed to them.
They are our friends, neighbors, relatives, co-workers and sometimes classmates. We see them every day without thinking about the risks they take and the security they provide so efficiently.
Seldom do the firefighters, law enforcement officers and emergency medical personnel who safeguard us hear expressions of gratitude from us.
This would be a good week to change that. In all likelihood you will encounter a first responder this week.
When you do, just say, "Thank you."