Sunday, September 21, 1997
True heroism comes off the field


BY PAUL DAUGHERTY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Lt. Ware
Lt. Jerrold Ware
He's doing better. He's doing well. Jerrold Ware is recovering, and sometimes life is fair.

On Aug. 30, he burned and fell and nearly died. His life hung in that limbo peculiar to hospitals, his body nested in tubes and machines that beeped and whooshed and did for Jerrold what he could not.

He is a Cincinnati firefighter. As he groped around a fourth-floor apartment doomed by smoke, searching for 4-year-old Genine Gray, something called a flashover ravaged him in flames.

Jerrold found a window, hung for an instant and fell. His mother remembers the telephone call from Jerrold's wife, Monique.

"Jerrold. . . bad . . . fire," was what Rebecca Ware Stewart heard.

This is what Rebecca thought: "Jerrold was dead."

She flew from her home near Washington, D.C., to Cincinnati, where fire personnel were waiting to take her to the hospital. When Rebecca arrived at University Hospital, she spoke to the older of her two sons:

"I love you. I've always been proud of you, but never prouder than I am at this moment. You've done all you can. You've done your job. Let the hospital staff take care of you."

That was when Rebecca knew Jerrold would be OK. Her son would make it. The kid who worshipped the Oakland Raiders, who'd played sports since he was a toddler, who'd even had a knee operation by age 6, would live.

Nobody else had reached that conclusion. Jerrold's lungs were badly damaged, his left arm broken. He had second- and third-degree burns. Doctors were vague, as they can be when a life in their care is teetering.

But Rebecca knew. Sometimes, life is fair.

We must remember. It is important, in a world of bad news, that we not forget. This is why Tony DeBiasse led me into the Burn Special Care Unit of University Hospital on Friday. He had been Ware's position coach at UC a decade ago, when Ware was a strong safety.

Soon enough, Jerrold would be moved to middle linebacker. Barely six feet tall. Two hundred pounds. Playing middle linebacker. Tough guy.

He started against Penn State and against Miami of Florida. He tackled fullbacks that outweighed him by 40 pounds. He did what he had to do.

"Your classic overachiever," says Tim Viox, his position coach at UC, now coach at Madeira.

But when he arrived in Clifton from Sacramento City College, Ware was DeBiasse's player, so now we are in the burn unit, scrubbing our hands.

"There's too much bad news in sports," Tony is saying. "This guy gets arrested. That guy beats his girlfriend. People need to know about Jerrold."

Twenty days after the fire, Jerrold is sitting in a chair by the window of his room. "I've been feeling better," he says. "God's been blessing me."

His left arm is in a sling. It will need another operation. The pigment in his face has been scarred, but only some. He coughs a lot, a deep wheezing insistence doctors say is both necessary and good, as his ravaged lungs begin their slow, steady comeback.

Every once in awhile, he coughs up mucus, which he suctions down a long, thin tube. "Did some laps today," Jerrold says, in a thick whisper. He walked around the hospital's second floor, several times. His lungs were the doctors biggest concern. They are healing. Jerrold doesn't want to be interviewed. "I'm straining to talk," he says. And besides, Ware does not consider himself remarkable. "He felt like he was just doing his job," Rebecca says.

A man does his job. He signs on as a firefighter; he is made aware of the risks. He is trained to recognize them and, whenever possible, avoid them. It is what he does. We shouldn't make too much of it.

Or maybe we should.

Maybe, we can't make enough of it. For so long, the twin virtues of heroism and courage have been devalued, particularly in sports. A hero is anyone who provides a momentary thrill. Courage goes to a pitcher who lasts nine innings.

Ware was a football player before he was a firefighter. Each requires sacrifice, dedication, teamwork and, at its best, a devotion to the common good. Says Viox, "Football is a great sport for what you go through in life."

Going from middle linebacker to rescuing a child from flames was not a leap for Jerrold Ware.

The sound of heroism can be the glad noise of 50,000 fans in a full stadium. Or it can be the sight of someone quiet and still, recovering beneath the small humming of a ventilator in a hospital room. Perhaps, as Tony DeBiasse says, we need to know one thing above all else, and that is the simple courage of a man doing his best for others. This is heroism beyond how we define it today.

When Jerrold took the job as a firefighter, Rebecca worried: "I read studies about how it was the most dangerous job."

Jerrold told her, "Believe me, mom. I'm not trying to be a hero. If you do your job and follow the rules, you'll be OK."

Except the rules don't apply when a 4-year-old girl is trapped inside a flaming apartment building. Jerrold has three girls himself, ages 5, 6 and 7.

"His inspiration," Willie Jones says of Jerrold's children, and his wife. Jones and another firefighter, Greg Williams, have maintained a vigil at Jerrold's bedside.

What sort of man is capable of such unconditional goodness? Jerrold Ware didn't know little Genine Gray. She was just someone who needed him.

Rebecca says simply, "I raised him just to be a good citizen. It was always, 'Just do right.' "

Maybe that's all we need to know. The best heroes are those among us who just do right.

The linebacker heard the cheers of thousands; the firefighter heard the gentle sobs of Genine Gray and her mother, outside his hospital room, a few weeks back. Genine was treated for smoke inhalation and released.

If Jerrold felt like talking, I'd ask him which moment provided the greater gratification. I know what his answer would be.

Something to think about, in the age of instant heroes.

DAUGHERTY ARCHIVE

Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.

Previous stories

FIREMAN'S HEROISM IN CHARACTER , Sept. 5, 1997
OWNERS FACE CHARGES IN FIRE Sept. 3, 1997
RESCUED GIRL, MOM PRAY FOR FIREFIGHTER Sept. 2, 1997
BURNED RESCUER ASKS FATE OF LITTLE GIRL Sept. 1, 1997
FELLOW FIREFIGHTER KNOWS WARE'S PAIN Sept. 1, 1997
SIXTH SENSE WARNED OF DANGER Sept. 1, 1997
FOUR FIREFIGHTERS HURT IN RESCUE Aug. 31, 1997
HOW IT HAPPENED (96K GIF) Aug. 31, 1997