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Reporter editorial: Heroes are among us

All around us, as COVID-19 cuts its way daily through our communities, our state and our country, we see examples of extraordinary selflessness in people who put their own well-being at risk to help others.

We’ve profiled a number of these people, and will continue to do so, as we work to keep our readers up to the minute on the curve we hear so much about, the daily count of COVID-19 cases and the death toll statewide.

As of this writing, New York State has 247,543 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Virus-related deaths across the state surpassed 10,000 in just over a month. COVID-19 has killed the vulnerable, taken away people we love and thoroughly trashed our economy, sending millions into the unemployment lines. Fear has accompanied this contagion and has spread just as fast.

Something mentioned recently reminds us all over again what heroes we have in our lives when events suddenly go very bad. These are people our society cannot do without. A press release last week from Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) mentioned a donation of personal protective equipment to our front-line health care workers.

That donation came from the Stephen A. Siller Foundation. Just seeing that name on the printed page reminded us of another horror, and another full-blown American hero who lost his life trying to save others.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Siller was assigned to Brooklyn’s Squad 1 of the New York City Fire Department. Mr. Siller — who lost both his parents before he was 10 years old — found his place in the FDNY. That warm fall morning he was to play golf with his brothers when he heard on his scanner that a jet had struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He told his wife, Sally, to call and cancel the golf game, and headed to Squad 1 to gear up.

We remember a team of volunteer EMTs from Shelter Island who climbed into two ambulances that morning fully loaded with emergency medical supplies and drove west. The team — composed of Helen Rosenblum, Ed Boyd, Faye Rodriguez, Chris Drake, Ed Kotula, Peter McCracken, Bud Fox, Ken Klenawicus and the late Ben Jones — headed to lower Manhattan.

As Mr. Siller headed into Manhattan, he found the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel was closed. This didn’t deter him; nothing would deter him that morning. He “strapped 60 pounds of gear to his back and raced on foot through the tunnel to the Twin Towers,” according to a biography on the foundation’s website.

He died that morning. The biography goes on to say this: “Stephen had everything to live for, a great wife, five wonderful children, a devoted extended family and friends. Stephen’s parents were lay Franciscans and he grew up under the guiding philosophy of St. Francis of Assisi, whose encouraging and inspirational phrase ‘While we have time, let us do good’ were words that Stephen lived by.”

They are words we should all aspire to live by. If you want to know what heroes do, if you want to know what being unselfish looks like, it is all around us. They are here, among us.