What would you do if you were driving by someone’s house and saw smoke out of the corner of your eye?
Most of us wonder what we might do if we ever faced a life-threatening situation. If you were in a hurry, would you keep driving, telling yourself it’s probably someone burning dry leaves in their backyard? Would you resist the idea that it might be up to you to save someone’s life? Would you keep driving but call the fire department?
If you’re Alan Peterson, of Enid, Oklahoma, the thought that someone might need your help and that you might be in a position to help does not intimidate you. Maybe it’s because you serve your community every single day, helping provide water to its residents and fixing their meters, and because you do it selflessly, not to enrich yourself, but because you actually care. And maybe it’s because you’ve been doing it for 28 years.
At any rate, by the time you reach the next corner, you’ve made your decision. You turn around and circle the block, looking for the source of a potential fire.
Peterson is a utilities worker for the City of Enid and member of AFSCME Local 1136. On that Wednesday morning, last fall, he helped rescue a couple in their 60s from their smoke-filled house. It was a close call. Sadly, the couple’s two dogs didn’t make it.
Later, when he heard that the nearest fire department had been busy responding to an accident, he realized just how lucky his timing had been. But when the local news media called him a hero, he resisted the attention.
“What did I do?” he recalls thinking. “I said, ‘Hey, I’m not taking credit. The Lord put me there.’”
Shaken by the experience, and having never been involved in anything like that, Peterson could have called his supervisor and taken the rest of the day off. Instead, he got back in his vehicle and resumed his normal schedule.
He didn’t call anyone, but texted his wife: “You’re not going to believe this, I think I may have helped save two people’s lives.”
Peterson realized just how lucky it was for the couple that he was in the right place at the right time.
“Clearly the results could have been different,” he says. “There’s no way the man was going to get out the front door on his own.”
But the only thing he did differently that day, after he was done with his morning calls, was buy burritos for everyone in the office.
“My co-workers were like, ‘What’s this?’,” Peterson recalls, “and I said: ‘You can call it a celebration of life.’”