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My 30th birthday was shaping up to be relaxing, if not downright lazy. I was flipping channels, waiting for the one o'clock baseball game to begin. My only plans for the day were to watch the entire game. The phone call at 12:38 p.m. changed things in a hurry.

It was my mother calling in a panic because my father had fallen off a stepladder and had broken his wrist. I told her to call 911 and I'd be right over -- I live just a mile away. Once the rescue workers confirmed it was just a broken wrist, I'd drive him to the hospital.

But when I arrived, Dad was rolling around on the garage floor clutching his left wrist, which had swollen to twice its normal size. Within seconds the first volunteer firefighter, the company chief, arrived. I led him into the garage where my dad was.

The chief quickly surveyed the situation and went right to work comforting my father and treating him. That's when I saw all the color drain from my father's face. He was still conscious, but something was wrong. He was going into shock.

Less than a minute after the chief arrived, four or five others, along with two paramedics, arrived. Without missing a beat, they worked together to treat Dad's wrist as well as the shock. Because of their professionalism, this story has a happy ending.

What started out as a broken wrist, ended as just that, a broken wrist. But I can't help wondering what would have happened if those volunteer firefighters hadn't been so quick to arrive.

The weather was beautiful that day; surely there was something they would rather have been doing. Some of them must have families and children that they would rather have been spending time with. Instead, they gave up time they could have spent with their families to help my family. It was a sacrifice that may have saved a life.

My brother-in-law is a volunteer firefighter in Cheektowaga. I hate to admit it, but there were occasions when I would roll my eyes as he left Sunday dinners when his pager went off. I wondered why he put up with the inconvenience of being a volunteer firefighter. Why would he give up time with his family if he didn't have to? Now I understand.

The word hero is often thrown around cheaply. We attach the label to those who hit a game-winning home run or score a goal in overtime. We sometimes gave it to those who enlighten us or serve as our leaders. But that changed with the tragedies of 9/1 1.

Now the title of hero is appropriately reserved for those who serve us by putting themselves in danger -- soldiers, police officers and firefighters. Our local volunteers deserve the title no less than their full-time counterparts.

They may seldom -- or ever -- charge into a burning building. I hope they never have to. But the way they selflessly give of themselves deserves more than just our annual donation and a parade.

I never gave volunteer firefighters much thought until the day my hero was rolling around on his garage floor in terrible pain and I wasn't able to help him. That's when I realized there had been a group of heroes in my community for a long time. I just never noticed them before.

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