The seemingly never-ending fights over politics, the dispiriting (though necessary) reckoning of sexual assault and harassment, and concern over emboldened white supremacists can blind us to broader fundamental realities, namely that there are plenty of good people in the world selflessly doing incredible work. A recent story in The Observer by Théoden Janes about two Monroe Police Department rookies provided a well-timed reminder that shouldn’t be forgotten as the glow of Christmas and excitement about the coming year fade.
Officers Corey Helms and Dylan Cole were the first to reach a house from which plumes of heavy smoke were billowing. Inside were three kids, five-month-old Alex, 10-month-old Maia and three-year-old Melanie, along with their mothers, Michelle and Stephanie Muñoz. They were trapped upstairs, not knowing if it would be safe to try to leave, or if they would be greeted by a massive fire.
Helms and Cole didn’t know either; neither did they know how long it would take the fire trucks already on the way to arrive. They decided not to wait and made their way through the unrelenting smoke, followed the women’s voices upstairs and walked down with the kids in their arms. Everyone left alive. Though it was later discovered a fire was not engulfing the house – water had evaporated from a pot on the stove used to sterilize bottles and utensils for the babies, the plastic melted and soon the house was darkened by smoke – there was no way to know at the time.
A similar scenario turned deadly in New York just a few days before Helms and Cole showed up at the Muñoz home. A three-year-old child fiddled with the knobs on a stove and caused an apartment building fire in the Bronx that killed 12 people, including an Army soldier who had recently finished basic training in Georgia. Before he died, though, 28-year-old Emmanuel Mensah, who had immigrated from Ghana with his family years earlier, ran in and out of the building trying to help others. He apparently died while trying to help one more.
What motivated Mensah in New York is likely what motivated Cole to join the Monroe Police Department.
“I felt like that’d be the best way to help people right now in the world,” he told The Observer. “I wanted to help fix things. I wanted to help figure stuff out. I wanted to help solve issues.”
Fortunately, they aren’t the only ones. All across the Carolinas, and throughout the country, are men and women determined to help, to save or improve lives whenever they can, even if it doesn’t require literally running into burning buildings. Some are identifiable by the uniforms and badges they wear; many go unnoticed despite their good deeds. But their presence makes things better for us all.
That’s long been true. It was true in 2017, a year many want to forget, and it will be true in the year to come.