Our neighbor Ken Fischer met a lot of interesting characters in his work with the Lakewood Police Department, Some were difficult or dangerous, of course. It’s a tough job, part of the deal. But some… some were shining examples of the best of us. Some were heroes.
By Ken Fischer
When I was young, one of my earliest examples of a hero to be admired was President John F. Kennedy. Most boomers in my generation felt the same, with this dashing, youthful, charismatic and well-spoken president. When he challenged us with “Ask not what your country can do for you…” it was electrifying, and just the juice we sought moving into new frontiers. The sad reflection of decades since has been what he could have done had his opportunity not been tragically plucked from history. With all his flaws documented in years since, I believe he is still regarded as one of our best. He was a hero to us. It is not a tragic death, though, that bestows the title.
Heroes are among us.
I do not believe there is a common definition for a hero. Performance under stress often points to an individual regarded as heroic. Dave Sanders, Sully Sullenberger, Alvin York, Kendrick Castillo and Todd Beamer were heroes.
The common thread seems to be average people who step up at a critical time to confront a life-threatening situation and resolve it in a life-saving manner, even at the risk of losing their own lives.
I spoke with one such hero. Dr. David Benke was a math teacher at a South Jeffco middle school. During an afternoon playground recess, a former student – an adult – with severe mental problems returned to his old school where he knew none of the present staff or students. With a legally obtained rifle, he began shooting students. Without hesitation, this tall, slender doctor of mathematics charged toward the fire, tackled the intruder and dragged him to the ground. He was joined by a school bus driver, Steve Potter, and together they subdued the aggressor. He shared with me that he felt he could not have physically made that tackle alone. In my wheelhouse, this took a mile of guts and I commended him.
As one of many humble people, he was uncomfortable with the honors. With reporters pushing him for a story, he brushed off accolades for his actions. “You’re just doing what you can do to try to protect your kids,” he said. Still, as a hero would, he turned bravery into action.
David Benke went on to establish a foundation to teach school and community safety. The foundation’s programs are now used in more than 30,000 schools, districts, departments, agencies, organizations and communities around the world. According to the Foundation’s website ILoveUGuys.org, the methods taught are about crisis response and post-crisis reunification, and are “research-based best practices of school administrators, psychologists, public space safety experts, families, and first responders.” A guiding principle of the “We Love U Guys” Foundation is…
Crisis isn’t a choice. Response is.
That’s something a hero knows.
This is Part 1 of a 3-part series about heroes. Part 2
Ken Fischer holds a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Iowa and was involved in organizing Iowa’s first Law Enforcement Training Academy. He was on the SWAT Team in the Lakewood Police Department, and retired as a Senior Sergeant. A longtime resident of Southern Gables, he is an experienced woodsman and now runs a firewood business.