- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

Noble: Kris Leija, for four fiery rescues in his hometown of Abilene, Texas.Heroism often comes down to a moment, an instant’s decision that alters one’s life. Hopefully, it’s for the better. About a week ago, Mr. Leija was faced with such a moment. Early last Sunday morning, he was passing by an apartment building in his hometown of Abilene when he saw that it was on fire. He might have stopped to watch the spectacle. He could have even helped people with their burdens once they were safely outside of the blaze. He would have rightly been called a hero if he had saved a single person from the conflagration. He didn’t.Rather, Mr. Leija rushed into the burning building, not once, but three separate times. He saved two small children and two infants. Thanks to Mr. Leija’s rescues, no one was killed in the blaze that completely consumed an 80-unit apartment complex.Yet, while Mr. Leija was still trying to clear the smoke from his system and receiving well-deserved accolades, he was arrested. His probation officer had seen him in a television interview, and Mr. Leija hadn’t reported in as ordered. So, after the spotlights clicked off, the cuffs clinked on.Mr. Leija was on probation for burglarizing his former high school. He’s had other stumbles as well. He’s even suspected of starting the blaze. However, this is the second fire in which Mr. Leija has singed his eyebrows and scraped up his person while rescuing people. Last August, he ran to the burning apartment building, broke a window and cut his arm while attempting to rouse the residents. Investigators determined the fire was caused accidentally, and the same may be true in this case. Mr. Leija denies he had anything to do with starting it.Give Mr. Leija the benefit of the doubt. Few would rush to two different fires or into the flames three times to save four strangers. He’s earned one chance at amnesty.Knaves: Nashville’s stewards of public safety, for bullying a pit bull and his best friend, Jarrod T. Martin.Mr. Martin is the owner of a pit bull named Bishop. Both were residents of a Nashville apartment that caught fire recently. Mr. Martin and the rest of the residents made it out, but Bishop didn’t.Though he was frantic to save his friend, Mr. Martin first waited for the fire department. He watched while smoky tendrils grew closer. He worried while fiery fingers closed in. He agonized while Bishop, frantic to escape the smoky room, began throwing himself against its glass door. After a full half-hour, Mr. Martin decided he had to do something. But by then, firefighters had determined that the building was too dangerous to enter.Mr. Martin went in anyway, grabbed a barbell, smashed out a window and dashed into the building. Moments later, he threw Bishop to safety and leaped out.And then he was arrested, handcuffed and charged with reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct. Officials claimed that Mr. Martin might have put firemen in jeopardy by diverting their attention or forcing a frightening rescue. Perhaps they have a point — had Mr. Martin stumbled or gotten stuck, a rescue would have been dangerous if not downright deadly. But that didn’t happen.After Mr. Martin and Bishop were safe, officials had no reason to collar, much less cuff either of them. People don’t normally need to be told not to run into burning buildings, so it’s hard to imagine that allowing Mr. Martin to walk would have encouraged others to follow his example.When faced with a helpless creature in fear and desperate danger, Mr. Martin’s reactions were exactly right. (One wonders if fire department officials would have reacted differently if Mr. Martin had saved a dalmatian instead of a pit bull.) While the charges against Mr. Martin have been dropped, Nashville’s stewards of the public safety should have been about more important business than bullying a bully rescuer.

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