There are many kinds of heroes in the world. There are the epic figures whose bold deeds alter the course of humanity. There are those who thrill us with their unique talents or who inspire us with lives of exceptional purpose and character. And there is a special category, one that never ceases to intrigue us, made up of people whose heroism crystallizes in a single moment of selflessness—who tempt fate for the sake of others. These are just the people you'd want around when the going gets tough. What sets them apart? Hard to say, observes Temple University psychology Prof. Frank Farley, who has made a study of heroism: "Often they have shown some propensity to take risks in the past. The big moment comes along, and they are ready for it. But I wish I understood them better, because we need much more of this kind of heroism." One thing we do understand, however, is that their selflessness seems to them to be entirely uncomplicated. Asked where he found the courage to race into a burning house in Wichita, Kans., to save six children (see page 125), Willie Gantt says simply, "I didn't think about it being dangerous until after. If somebody needs help, I help. It's the way I was raised."

In the following pages we tell the stories of Gantt and others who became heroes when the moment presented itself—ordinary people, to all outward appearances, who risked their lives or their safety to help neighbors, friends and strangers in peril. Some of those they rescued weren't even human, suggesting that, sometimes at least, man is dog's best friend. And some we honor are those of whom heroism is more routinely expected—firemen, for example, and police officers—yet who went beyond duty's call in moments of terrible stress.

Out of the Ordinary

They're just regular folks—except that in the face of danger or dire need they put themselves in harm's way to help others

CROSSING GUARD JILL COOK, 66
Taking a hit to save a child

As usual, Jill Cook's post at North Crystal Lake Drive and Lowry Avenue in Lakeland, Fla., was busy on the morning of Aug. 16. With Cook's guidance, 7-year-old Amber Stringer had just stepped onto the curb, with her big brother Tony, 10, lagging close behind. But before he could reach the safety of the sidewalk, a pickup truck, out of nowhere, came speeding toward him. Instinctively, Cook pushed Tony out of the way. But she had no time to save herself, and the truck struck her with terrible force. "She flew up, landed on the hood, hit the windshield, and when the truck stopped it threw her off," says Christine Stringer, Amber and Tony's mother, who saw what happened from her nearby backyard and rushed to Cook's side. "I thought she was dead." Cook remained conscious but recalls little of the impact. "The only thought I had was, 'Are the kids okay?' " she says. The pain was excruciating, and small wonder. She'd broken her pelvis, right knee, hip, tibia and fibula and five ribs. (Police say driver Chester Lepriol, 28, was doing about 46 mph in a 15-mph zone; charged with criminal reckless driving, he pleaded not guilty.) A retired nurse and widowed mother of six, Cook is staying with her daughter Jennifer, also a nurse, and faces months of rehab. "She may have a limp, but all her fractures should heal," says her surgeon Dr. George Letson.

The grateful Stringers visit Cook often. "There's a special bond," says Christine, 34. Adds Amber: "I love her very much." Cook downplays her heroism and hopes her story serves as a lesson. "That's my whole goal—for people to be more cautious," she says. "Obey those flashing lights. Don't put on makeup while driving. Don't read the newspaper. Please be careful."

STEELWORKERS IN ILLINOIS
Braving a fiery wreck, they pull victims out alive

Just before 10 p.m. on March 15, the Birmingham Steel plant in Bourbonnais, Ill., shook with a deep ramble. No one on the night shift seemed concerned; steel mills often reverberate with "wet charges"—-explosions set off as chunks of scrap metal, moist from sitting outdoors, strike the furnace where they're melted down. But this time was different. Crane operator Mark Lapinsky peered outside the plant grounds and to his horror saw a jumble of railroad ears engulfed in fire and smoke. He sprinted to the shipping office.

"Amtrak wreck! Call 911!" he screamed, then ran through the plant summoning coworkers. Heading south from Chicago with 216 people aboard, the train, the City of New Orleans, had collided at a crossing with a truck carrying 18 tons of steel. Driver John Stokes, 58, escaped with cuts and bruises, but 11 people on the train died and 116 were injured. (The cause of the crash remains under investigation.) Terrible as the toll was, it would have been worse but for Lapinsky and 34 fellow steelworkers. "They were the major heroes," says Bourbonnais Fire Chief Mike Harshbarger. "They were there first, willing to wade into the mess."

When Lapinsky reached the crash site, 100 yards from the mill, he found people crawling out of a ditch, drenched in water and blood. "Out comes a crew member holding a little girl," he recalls. "He hands her to me and tells me to get help. I look down, and her left foot is missing." Lapinsky wrapped her wound in his jacket until he spied a nurse. (Though the girl, Ashley Bonnin, 8, of Nesbit, Miss., survived, her mother, June, 46, was killed, along with a cousin and two friends, all between the ages of 8 and 11.) Crane operator Dale Winkel, 41, and shipping clerk Joe Brown, 29, joined Lapinsky in pulling out survivors as fire spread through the wreckage. At one point, passenger Greg Herman, 40, of Memphis crawled out, handed off Kristen, his 8-year-old daughter, then raced back to the sleeping car where his wife, Lisa, 39, and their other children, Kaitlin, 5, and David, 3, remained. Lapinsky, Brown and Winkel intercepted him. "One of them said, 'You can't go in there,' " Herman recalls. "I grabbed him and said, 'My wife and kids are in there.' He said, 'Let's go.' " The steelworkers crawled in and got out Herman's family, all of whom suffered only minor injuries. "They wouldn't be alive today if it weren't for them," Herman says of the steel men.

Moments later, the plant's night supervisor Bob Curwick, 39, and millwright Jack Casey, 41, entered the dining car to find Susan Falls, her right leg crushed by debris. Falls told them her husband, John, and their 19-year-old daughter Jennifer were somewhere inside. At the time of the crash, the family had been eating cheesecake. Afterward, Falls, 46, called out their names but heard nothing. "I'm not going to make it," she told Curwick and Casey. "If you're going to die, I'm going to die with you," Curwick replied. "And I'm too ornery to die." John, 56, had escaped on his own, and after searching the car, Curwick was startled when a hand reached out from a pile of tables and chairs and grabbed his ankle. It was Jennifer, who has Down's syndrome, immobilized by fractures of the ribs and spine. Curwick and Casey stayed with mother and daughter as the flames drew closer and firefighters cleared debris. Finally a hose appeared, and water came pouring in ("The sweetest sound I ever heard," says Casey).

On the scene until 3:30 a.m., the steelworkers took the next day off. When they returned, they met with counselors and talked of their trauma—especially the lives they couldn't save. "There were a bunch of tough guys in there," says Casey. "But there were plenty of tears."

SECURITY TECHNICIAN GUY BURNETT, 27
He rescues two trapped babies from a roadside canal

Last June 13 was a brilliant Sunday in South Florida, and Claudia Cox, in the backseat of a friend's Mitsubishi, was going from Miami to Naples to visit her boyfriend Otasha Barrett with their year-old twin daughters, Kendia and Kenisha, strapped into car seats beside her. Heading west through the Everglades on 1-75, Cox, 23, a hospital lab assistant, was singing gospel tunes with her cousin Simone Hyatt, who was sitting in front with driver Tashana Brown. But just after 3 p.m. a front tire blew, and the car crashed through a fence, flipping over and landing upside down in an alligator-infested canal. "All I could think was 'I'm going to die,' " says Cox. "Then I thought, 'Please, God, don't let anything happen to my babies.' "

The answer to her prayers was Guy Burnett, who had been just minutes behind Cox, driving with his wife and two children. Burnett pulled over and saw that all three women were out of the car, but that Cox was standing in the water screaming, "My babies!" Then a serviceman for a security firm, Burnett dove into the murky canal and tried vainly to open the car doors. "It was like pea soup," he recalls. "I wouldn't have seen my hand if I'd held it in front of my face." Finally, finding an open window, he unlocked a door and freed Kenisha from her car seat and brought her to safety. That's when he heard Cox screaming, "There's two of them!" Diving back in, he found Kendia and brought her to the surface. But it seemed too late. "She was like a rag doll," Burnett says. Cox's friend Brown, a flight attendant with first aid training, began administering CPR. Then Burnett, who learned the technique as a lifeguard in high school, took over. "C'mon, baby, breathe!" he exhorted. After a couple of minutes, Kendia whimpered. "That progressed to a good cry," he says. "It was like music to my ears."

GIRL SCOUT KORTNEY CAMPBELL, 13
A tough cookie pulls a pit bull off her little brother

Max the pit bull had never caused any trouble. Or so his owners assured their wary friends, the Campbells, and three other Phoenix-area families when they brought their pet along for a summer camping trip last year. But as soon as they chained him to a pine tree at a campsite 40 miles south of the Grand Canyon, the dog grew agitated, then vicious. He leaped at one child, knocking off his glasses, then he went after 6-year-old Rusty Campbell, knocking him to the ground and biting his face. Blood gushed from the wound as the boy lay screaming, and Max seemed ready to move in for a second attack.

Sizing up the danger in an instant, Kortney sprang into action. She grabbed the dog's chain and, with a mighty yank, pulled the animal away. ("I don't usually freeze up when something bad happens," she says.) Grabbing Rusty, their mother, Jennifer, 30, was shocked to see that his nose was gone. Her husband, Luther, 41, shot Max dead, then drove their son to a nearby motel and called 911. As paramedics rushed Rusty to a hospital, Luther sped back to search for the nose. "It's a miracle I found it," he says. "It was rolled up in some pine needles." Doctors reattached it, and after reconstructive surgery it appears almost normal. "She really protected me," Rusty says of his sister. Awarded the Girl Scouts bronze cross for valor last June, Kortney—an A student who plays basketball and runs track at her elementary school—was asked if the incident made her feel any closer to her little brother. "Yeah," she said with a grudging smile, every bit the big sister. "Sometimes."

COLLEGE STUDENT BARRETT BABER, 19
At a crash site inferno, his cool action saves lives

On the night of June 1, Barrett Baber, a sophomore at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas, had settled back in his seat on American Airlines Flight 1420, eagerly awaiting his arrival home in Little Rock after a two-week tour of Germany performing with 24 other members of his college choir. But as the plane approached the runway, it was jolted by winds from a violent thunderstorm. "I was sitting there, buckled up, and we were shaking," says Baber. "I thought, 'Here we go. We're coming down.' "

The plane, carrying 139 passengers and six crew members, touched down hard, then went into a gut-wrenching skid. "They turned those back-thrusters on full blast, but we kept going forward," he says. "Then the lights flashed off and on, and the stewardess screamed, 'Brace yourself!' " The plane careered toward the end of the runway and, just short of the Arkansas River, crashed into a metal support for approach beacons and split apart. "I looked out, and I could see flames outside the airplane," says Baber.

Escape wouldn't be easy. As fire began engulfing the plane, panicked passengers tugged at a jammed exit door. "I grabbed the door and pulled on it as hard as I could," says Baber. "It wasn't budging." But through the thickening smoke, he spied an 18-inch break in the fuselage. "I picked a stewardess up and pushed her through the hole," says Baber, who quickly did the same for three others. "Then it got really smoky," he says. "I couldn't breathe or see, and I got really scared." In spite of that and despite cuts on his legs and torso, Barrett squeezed his 6'4", 225-lb. frame headfirst through the crack and found himself outside the plane knee-deep in water near the river's edge. "I thought for a while I was the only survivor because I couldn't see anybody. All I could see, taste or breathe was black smoke," he says. "It was freezing cold and hailing something terrible."

After helping two more survivors out of the same hole in the fuselage, Baber joined three fellow passengers, including the flight attendant, in the cold water. "I got to the stewardess and started sobbing, just crying uncontrollably," he says. "She said, 'Come on, Barrett. Stay with me.' " He shook off his terror and helped guide others away from the fiery wreck.

In the end the crash of American Airlines Flight 1420 killed 11, injured 80 and changed Barrett Baber's life forever. "You hear it all the time, people saying that every day is a gift. But it really is, you know," he says. "I drive the speed limit. I spend more time with people. And relationships mean a lot more to me now." As they no doubt do to those whose lives he helped save. Says Luke Hollingsworth, Baber's friend and fellow passenger: "The Bible says to sacrifice your life for a friend is the greatest gift. But to do it for a stranger takes it a step farther. And that's what Barrett did."

TECHNICIAN WILLIE GANTT, 42
Carrying precious cargo from a raging house fire

Working on his tax returns in the wee hours of Feb. 28, Willie Gantt was startled by an urgent banging at the door of his Wichita, Kans., home. It was a breathless Sharanda Beard, 12, clutching a baby and shaking with fear as she blurted out that the house next door, where she was babysitting seven younger cousins and siblings, was on fire. Gantt, 42, barefoot and in boxer shorts, dashed out the door and "leaped over the fence," says his wife, Vera, 32. "He looked like a lion." Opening the door to the neighbor's house, "the fire knocked me to my knees," says Gantt, the father of three. Racing to the side of the house and crawling through the basement window that Sharanda had broken to escape, Gantt found the children and carried them to safety one by one. The fire, started by clothes near a space heater, gutted the house. "A few more minutes," says fire investigator Don Birmingham, "we'd be talking about eight fatalities."

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL STUDENT AUSTIN PAYNE, 8
With his principal in trouble, he applies a big squeeze

Bantering in the cafeteria last month with students at Northridge Elementary School in Oklahoma City, principal Ron Christy noticed a child wasn't eating his Tater Tots. So he asked for one. Then another. Christy's chatting and chewing prompted a pupil to wonder aloud if his mother hadn't told him not to talk with his mouth full. Too late. By now, Christy, 50, was in distress, a Tater Tot stuck in his throat. "I looked around for another adult," says Christy, whose face was turning blue, "and saw only a roomful of children."

With the other students oblivious, Austin Payne sprang into action. Rushing behind Christy, he wrapped his arms around the principal and gave a sudden squeeze, performing the Heimlich maneuver his father, Charley, 30, had taught him last year. Out popped the Tater Tot. A whirlwind of attention has since come the third-grader's way, including a visit to Late Show with David Letter-man. But the straight-A student and budding right fielder is most impressed by the Thank You pin Christy gave him. "He told me he thought he was going to die," says Austin, "and that he was real proud of me."

COURIER WILSON DAVIS, 27
Refusing to walk away

Walking along a side street near St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem on March 30 to visit his mother, Wilson Davis saw the shadowy figure of a man towering over a little girl. Ignoring her screams, the man had pulled her pants down and was straddling her. Another passerby just kept on walking. Not Davis. "I couldn't just walk by," he says. "That girl could have been killed."

Containing his anger ("I really wanted to hit the guy"), the amateur heavyweight boxer pinned the man, then yelled to a woman looking down from an apartment, "Call the cops!" The relieved 12-year-old hugged Davis, repeating "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" Even the arresting officers embraced him.

A Virginia native whose family moved to The Bronx when he was 7, the imposing 6'4", 230-lb. courier spends most of his evenings at the gym, training for hours in hopes of winning a professional championship belt. As for his personal triumph last spring, Davis modestly shrugs and shakes his head. "I have a sister, I have a mom who lives in that area," he says. "It could have been one of them. Even so, I would have done it for anybody."

CABBIE WILLIAM SPIVEY, 50
Defending the road

Leaving Helen, Ga., on the night of Feb. 27, cabbie William "Bubba" Spivey drove over a hill and found himself face to face with an oncoming car on the wrong side of Interstate 20. Knowing a drunk driver had recently killed a father and his two children on that same stretch of road, Spivey decided on the spot to stop the oncoming car with his own. "If I stop dead still, I could block it," he said to himself, "and I believe I could survive the impact."

As others sped by, Spivey forced the other car off the road, then shouted to the driver, "Lady, you're on the wrong side of the interstate!" "No, I'm not," insisted Martha Bracken, 55, who tried to drive around him. But steering his car into hers, Spivey pushed her off the highway and jumped out to grab her keys.

Weeks later, Bracken pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and driving on the wrong side of the road. "I'm glad he stopped me," says the Crawfordville, Ga., resident. Spivey, a divorced father of two from Langley, S.C., felt he had no choice. "If I didn't try to stop her," he says, "and she killed somebody, I might as well have been driving that car."

PARAMEDIC TERRY HOBEN, 37
In a hurricane's wake, he ferries neighbors to safety

After wrapping up a brutal 17-hour shift Sept. 17 at a hospital in Newark, N.J., paramedic Terry Hoben thought he'd take a look at what Hurricane Floyd had left behind before he headed home. Entering downtown Bound Brook, where he lives with his wife, Sally, 45, and their two children, Hoben found chaos. Floodwaters from the Raritan River had risen more than 10 feet on Main Street, inundating homes, shorting out power lines and setting off fires. "It was hysteria at that point," recalls Hoben. "There were fire trucks running all over the place, state police were arriving with boats, 10 to 12 feet of water." And the water was still rising.

Spotting a friend, police Lt. Steven Cozza, Hoben asked how he could help. Cozza urged him to get home as fast as he could, put his fishing boat into the water and start emptying houses. Soon after, in the 16-foot skiff he had left parked on a trailer in his driveway, Hoben teamed up with officer Diana Paczkowski and pushed off into the eerie landscape of half-submerged buildings in search of stranded residents. "You put 16 feet of water on an area you usually walk around, and you can't recognize a thing," says Hoben. "We were scared to death." Adds Paczkowski, 29: "I'm not an avid water lover, first of all."

Navigating fast-running murky waters where familiar streets once lay, the two were soon hard at work. Taking aboard babies and children first, they plucked whole families from upper floors, attics and even rooftops where they had sought safety. Hoben sometimes entered a house where residents had been reluctant to leave or were waiting for the waters to subside. But water wasn't the only worry. The floods had risen to the point that Hoben and his passengers had to duck beneath high-voltage power lines, some of them still surging with current. And in one area a gas main had broken. Hoben carefully eased his boat along, hoping nothing would set off the potentially lethal fumes. "A mistake could not just have cost my life or Diana's, but the 8 or 10 people in the boat," he explains.

He and Paczkowski made nearly 50 trips over 13 hours, taking people to safety. Mary Anne Baloy, 42, remembers him well. She, her husband, Roger, 39, and their three children thought they could wait out the flood. Then it rose to their first-floor ceiling and kept on climbing. In the distance, she says, "you heard people screaming." When Hoben and another team of rescuers arrived, he lifted Baloy's kids into his boat. "It was incredible what they did," she says. "I have no idea how to repay them." But Hoben says he was just one of many residents and police officers who helped that night. "My town was in trouble," he says. "And this disaster pulled this community together."

COLLEGE STUDENT MARIAN NEAL, 40
Broke and out of a job, she gives a child the gift of life

Troubled by back problems in 1996, Marian Neal gave up her job handling freight in Washington, D.C., for a shipping company. Broke and homeless, she moved in with a friend two years later in nearby Alexandria, Va. There she befriended Terrance Varner, a 7-year-old who lived with his grandmother Elaine Harris and whose kidneys were failing. To keep her little friend company, Neal, now 40, often accompanied him on his three weekly trips to dialysis at Washington's Children's National Medical Center. "I saw all the suffering the children went through there," she recalls, "and wondered what I could do to help." Then she had an idea.

Last December, Neal donated one of her kidneys to Terrance—an unusual offering in that only 4 percent of transplants come from people unrelated by blood or marriage. Thankfully medical tests showed that Neal and Terrance were a match.

"I didn't think it was a big step," says Neal. "I just wanted Terrance to be able to eat, drink and play like a normal boy." Grandmother Harris saw the December operation as a much bigger deal. "It's the best Christmas present I could ever have," she told The Washington Post.

Good deed aside, Neal again found herself homeless last August when her friend's brother moved back in. But her plight did not go unnoticed. Hearing about Neal, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo secured a one-bedroom apartment for her in Southwest D.C. Says Cuomo: "In an age when many people think only about themselves, she was totally selfless."

In addition to the apartment, Neal also received a free car from a local auto dealer so she could drive to classes at Northern Virginia Community College, where she is studying to become a social worker. "I made a way for Terrance," says Neal gratefully, "and God made a way for me."

Saving Grace

Humans aren't the only ones in need of a hero; it's a dangerous world out there for animals too. When three creatures found themselves in big trouble, three determined men pitched in to help

WILDLIFE SUPERVISOR ART YERIAN, 42
Olga the Otter's brave savior

Just past noon on New Year's Eve day, staffer Art Yerian was making his rounds at the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park on Florida's Gulf Coast when he noticed something amiss in the alligator pond. There, where 17 of the carnivorous amphibians are kept, "I could see bubbles," says Yerian, "like a little submarine." Scanning an adjacent pen, Yerian quickly realized what had happened. Olga, an 8-year-old sea otter, had pried loose a grate in her enclosure and paddled through a 6-ft. barrier into the gator pond. As a crowd of visitors gathered, Yerian grabbed a net and ladder, hopped a 4-ft. fence (catching a shoelace and crashing onto his back) and waded into the knee-deep pond. "There was no way I was going to let Olga get munched in front of 3,000 people—not to mention kids," says Yerian, the father of two. Struggling for footing on the slippery bottom, he used the ladder to sweep the water for Olga and to keep the alligators at bay. But in churning the water, Yerian got the attention of a 15-ft. gator, which rushed him, mouth wide open for the kill. Scrambling to safety, Yerian asked for a long pole to ward off further attack. "Since he came after me," he explains, "I was going to go after him so he wouldn't charge again." Finally steering Olga back onshore, Yerian scooped her into his net, to the cheers of the crowd, and hauled her to safety. How to explain the risk he'd been willing to take for an otter? That's easy, says colleague Susan Lowe: "He treats every one of the animals like it's his own."

SCHOOLTEACHER GEOFF HALEY, 50
His dog trapped in a drain, a loyal owner digs him out

Their daily walks near home in Medomsley, England, were a relaxing ritual for schoolteacher Geoff Haley and his mixed-breed Lakeland-Border terriers Billy and Ben. But on the afternoon of May 3, Ben suddenly darted into the woods. "I thought he might be chasing a rabbit," says Haley. But when Ben didn't return after several hours, adds Haley, "I knew he had met with some kind of trouble."

Haley's best guess was that Ben had disappeared into a long-disused 18-in. drainpipe that had so fascinated the dog that Haley had blocked it repeatedly with .wire fencing. But sure enough, the fencing was gone. Investigating, Haley discovered the pipe had recently been connected to the drainage lines of a new subdivision. When he and a friend, John Bell, began lifting manhole covers from a newly built road directly over the pipe, their worst fears were confirmed. "I listened at the drain," recalls Bell, 61, "and I could hear Ben yapping."

Firemen tried to dislodge the dog with a high-powered stream of water, but that didn't work. Finally, Haley, along with wife Bobbie, 50, daughter Helen, 24, and a group of volunteers, took matters into their own hands. "I couldn't wait," says Haley. "I didn't know how much air Ben had, and any rain would have drowned him." Throughout the night they dug up more than a foot of tarmac and concrete, then broke through the pipe itself. Friends lowered Haley headfirst into the pipe but he still couldn't free the dog—and the hole was caving in. It wasn't until 8 a.m. when a construction crew arrived for work that the hole was widened and Ben was freed. "He was stuck in goo like the cork in a wine bottle," recalls Haley. "It took a massive heave to get him out."

With no more damage than a dirty coat, Ben, after a brief turn in the family shower, was soon wagging his tail but offering no word on what had prompted his excursion. "He's a bit of a daft dog," says Haley affectionately. "What possessed him that day is a mystery."

FISHERMAN SHAUN CURNOW, 32
A helping hand for a deer in deep water

As he headed out at dawn last June off the coast of Cornwall, England, fisherman Shaun Curnow of the village of St. Keverne was hoping for a standard day's haul of 500 pounds of mackerel. Instead, as he scanned the sea a quarter-mile offshore, he spotted a disturbance in the water. "The gulls were really going in on something," says Curnow. "I could see this little brown blob. I thought it was a bit of driftwood at first."

But it wasn't. As Curnow pulled his 19-ft. fishing boat, the Bold Venture, toward the scene, he made out an object moving against the tide. "As soon as I saw the antlers, I knew what it was," he says. " 'That's a blinkin' deer!' " After several attempts to pull alongside the flailing animal, Curnow finally managed to grab hold of the exhausted creature and haul him over the side. "He was huffing and puffing and panting," says Curnow, who offered the deer a bit of a Kit Kat bar. "He kept looking at me, and he was a sad little thing." Onshore in 20 minutes, Curnow, who had radioed ahead, was met by local veterinarian David Cromey, who examined the winded but healthy 3-year-old male—which weighed in at 65 lbs.—and later released him into the nearby woods.

To date no one in St. Keverne, where few deer are ever seen, has been able to explain how the hapless animal wound up in the sea. But his rescue briefly made Curnow, a divorced father of two, a national celebrity. "They were all ready for big brown eyes and a story with a happy ending," says Cromey. "And that's what they got."

All in a Day's Work

Honors don't come with the badge. These professional lifesavers earned them

POLICEMAN ERICH KESSINGER, 29
The right call saves a life

It was supposed to be a birthday celebration—a night of barhopping just after the stroke of midnight Aug. 24, when Kristine Lurowist would officially turn 21. In honor of the occasion, the Penn State University senior consumed 21 shots of booze—one for each year. Fortunately, by the time Lurowist staggered out of her last State College saloon that night, officer Erich Kessinger was on routine duty nearby. "I watched her go from stumbling and staggering to being held up by a guy on each arm to the point where her legs started to drag," says Kessinger. When he approached to help, Lurowist's companions put up a stink. "They said, 'She's 21. We're legal. Get out of here, cop,' " he recalls. Over her friends' initial protests, he called an ambulance. By the time it arrived she was unconscious. When he learned later that night that her blood-alcohol level was an astonishing. 682—more than six times the legal limit for driving—"I never envisioned that she was going to pull through," he says. In fact, she survived only because she was placed on emergency dialysis. In a letter to the local Centre Daily Times, Lurowist thanked Kessinger and wrote, "I am doing fine and am eager to make up the class work missed and pursue my studies." More gratifying were her personal thanks; when Kessinger visited Lurowist the next day in the hospital, she greeted him as the man who saved her life. "It's not like I took a bullet," says Kessinger. "But for someone to say that, well, that makes a career."

DETECTIVE INSPECTOR HOWARD GROVES, 42
Visiting the U.S., an English tourist catches a thief

It was supposed to be a welcome break from work for British police officer Howard Groves, who arrived last March for a week of sightseeing in New York City with girlfriend Rachel Double. But stepping out of their Manhattan hotel on just their second morning in town, the pair heard shouts from a nearby store. "I went into police mode right away," says Groves, a detective inspector in the London suburb of Uxbridge. "I started to walk across the street, but I remember thinking, 'Whoa, this is New York, be careful.' "

Very careful. Next thing he knew a man burst out of the shop. "He was running toward me covered in blood, shouting, 'Help, help, they're trying to rob me,' " says Groves. When two suspects emerged from the shop and began walking calmly down the street, Groves barked at them. One took off, but the other glared at Groves, then pulled a gun from a paper bag. "Without saying anything—bang!" recalls Groves. "The shot echoed around the buildings."

Unhurt, he and Double, 28, ducked back into their hotel lobby. But Groves, who like most British policemen has never carried a firearm on duty—and had never before been shot at—refused to give up. He followed the two men and quickly came upon a parked patrol car. Hailing an officer and identifying himself as a cop, he headed toward a subway stop where the suspects had fled. "I ran into the subway thinking, 'This is not happening to me,' " he says. One suspect jumped onto the tracks and escaped, but Groves—now with three NYPD cops—spotted the other and helped wrestle him to the ground, seize his gun and handcuff him. Only later, during a press conference, did fear get the better of Groves. "There was a sea of photographers clicking away," he says. "My knees were shaking."

FIREFIGHTER TIM DENEEN, 41
Digging deep for Jessy

lust that morning, last May 13, Tim Deneen's squad in the Wichita (Kans.) Fire Dept. had taken a special class on making rescues in confined spaces. Then at 7 p.m. the call came in: 17-month-old Jessy Kraus had tumbled into a well being dug in the backyard of his family's new home in nearby Mulvane. By the time Deneen and his technical rescue team arrived at 7:30, nearly two dozen rescue workers and neighbors were on the scene, and a local chemical company had set up a video camera to lower into the well—but that was not enough. "I saw that picture of his hand and this little head," Deneen, the father of two young girls and a firefighter since 1991, says of the video image. "I knew we had to get him."

Rescuers used a backhoe to dig a 20-ft.-deep pit next to the nearly 17-ft. well, then dug 7 ft. across to Jessy, who, by then exhausted, had fallen asleep. Deneen wedged himself into the 2-ft.-wide opening and grabbed the boy by the foot. "I asked him if he liked Barney," says Deneen. "And he said, 'No! No!' " Fifteen minutes later—five hours after the ordeal began—Deneen wrested the toddler from the pit, much to the relief of the boy's parents, Jerry Kraus, 30, and Karen, 28, who have another son, Cody, 8. (Karen was in the kitchen making dinner, and Jerry was with Jessy watering trees in the backyard when the toddler, walking toward him, tumbled into the well.) After a night in the hospital for observation, the little boy was released in the morning with just a minor bruise on his forehead and scratches on his elbow. "Thankfully it was one of those nights when everything worked like clockwork," says Deneen. "I could feel God all around."

  • Contributors:
  • Aixa Pascual,
  • John Slania,
  • Fannie Weinstein,
  • Jerry Kammer,
  • Michelle McCalope,
  • Pam Grout,
  • Carlton Stowers,
  • Ellen Tumposky,
  • Veronica Byrd,
  • Amy Laughinghouse,
  • Jennifer Wren,
  • Rochelle Jones,
  • Sara Bennett,
  • Tim Dawson,
  • Liz Corcoran,
  • Matt Birkbeck,
  • Bob Calandra.