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Hats off to some of our local heroes

They saw need, and did not run. They faced crisis, and did not hide. For the most part, they are ordinary folks who did an extraordinary thing. For some, it was one action. For others, it is a way of life. We recognize each with the Esmonde Awards, the annual public pat on the back to those who went beyond the call of civic duty.

*Wayne Bacon: The owner of a welding and specialty gases business on the city's East Side helped in the wake of the October storm in a special way: He made and gave away dry ice, the chalk-sized tubes of minus-110 degree solid carbon dioxide.

Paying workers overtime, helped by his wife, Mary, and three kids, they filled every cardboard box and cooler that power-deprived folks lined up with. Food was saved that otherwise would have spoiled. The folksy CEO gave away more than $20,000 of the cold stuff -- much of it to people living in the tattered nearby neighborhoods. Rising to the occasion lifted a lot of lives.

*Carl Paladino: The downtown businessman is a complex set of contradictions: A Vesuvian temper matched with a soft heart; a savior of some downtown buildings who neglected or demolished others; a civic voice often driven by self-interest. But his passion was never put to better use than when he sued the Thruway Authority to end the Ogden and Breckenridge tolls.

*Attorney Mike Powers of Phillips Lytle discovered the tolls should have ended a decade ago. A court victory got politicians -- who complained for years about the tolls but accomplished nothing -- on the bandwagon. The authority buckled two months ago, ending years of highway robbery. Carl, we owe you one.

*The Rev. Keith Scott: Lean and soft-spoken, he ministers to a small flock in the Perry Projects. The proposed Seneca Casino would be built a block away from hundreds of folks who live small but dream big. Scott joined the fight against it, speaking out on behalf of people who thrash about just to stay afloat. The temptation of a nearby casino, he believes, would sink many of them.

He fights back, standing not just for himself, but for every inner-city pastor who battles the devils of drink, drugs and poverty on their streets. A casino would just up the odds against them.

*Jim Liberatore: Something made him stop that fall afternoon, driving home from work and spotting a commotion on the Southwestern Boulevard bridge. He got out and saw a woman straddling the bridge railing, threatening to jump. A cluster of people gathered and a woman -- a doctor, he later found out -- spoke calmingly to her.

Years of training kicked in for Liberatore, a prison guard at Attica. Unseen, he approached and grabbed the distracted would-be jumper, pulling her to safety. Then the quiet, everyday guy went home, telling no one but his wife and a few friends -- one of whom contacted me.

Later he was thanked by relatives of the distraught woman. But the best feeling is one most of us will never know: Saving a life, giving someone a second chance.

*Troopers Joe Longobardo, Don Baker and Sean Brown, and Buffalo cops Patty Parete and Carl Andolina: Good cops watch our backs, working a job that demands equal parts toughness and compassion. Every contact comes with risk, represented in the armed-and-dangerous person of a troubled teenager like Varner Harris Jr., or a disgruntled lifelong loser like Ralph Phillips. Longobardo lost his life, Baker and Parete were seriously hurt, Brown and Andolina were relatively lucky.

We respect their sacrifice and their courage to face the unknown. We feel for the families who live with the anxiety of the job and who -- when the worst happens -- bear an unimaginable grief.

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com

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