I read something just now on ESPN.com in an article about a former football player whose now a firefighter. It’s a good story, but one passage deserves debate.

“Firefighters went toward the heat. That’s what they do. They go forward when all logic says go back. So many awful things can happen in a fire. The building can collapse. There can be a backdraft or even the feared flashover — when everything in a place suddenly and almost without warning bursts into searing hot flames. From the beginning of training, firemen chant the telltale signs. Mostly, that just makes them feel better. They have only two seconds to react. Say it out loud: “One Mississippi. Two Mississippi.” That’s the difference between dying and hugging your wife again.”

What bothers me is the statement, “They go forward when all logic says go back.” You hear this line over and over again with regard to people who work in emergency services or armed forces. And in my opinion, anyone who says something like this just doesn’t understand or appreciate the concept of duty.

For a firefighter with the proper equipment, the logical course of action is to run into the fire. That’s their job, their responsibility, and–most importantly–their duty to society. They run in because they’ve been trained to fight the fire and minimize its destructive force. They run in because they are one of the select few people in this world capable of doing something about it.

Police officers chase criminals for the same reason.

Soldiers go to sleep on the battlefield knowing they may never wake up.

That’s the logic of the situation and of the individual, because if they don’t do it, no one else can.

I have great respect for all of these lines of work…for anyone willing to risk their life for what they believe is the greater good.

And I wish more people understood that. Perhaps then we’d stop talking about firefighters in the revered tones we so often use, which are so trite as to sound overblown. Perhaps then we’d understand that the greatness is at the core of anyone who will bet their life on behalf of society, regardless of profession.

Perhaps then, we’d understand that every human being can choose to put their own well-being aside for society’s sake. If more of us did so, we’d recognize that firefighters aren’t noble because they make the unpopular choice. They’re noble because they make the right choice.

Maybe we shouldn’t respect them more than any others; maybe we should respect ourselves less.

So answer me this.

Given the physical ability, training, and equipment, could you run into the burning building?

I sincerely hope so.