Everyone loves a hero. Whether it’s a superhero, like we see in all our Hollywood blockbusters lately, a selfless firefighter, or a dedicated cop willing to do whatever it takes to uphold the law and keep people safe.
We look up to these people because it gives us hope that there is good in this world that so often tries to throw all the bad in our faces. What many of us don’t understand though, is that anyone can be a hero. Even those who themselves don’t believe they can…
Hero and Father
Officer Thompson was an LA patrolman who had served on the force for nearly three decades. He was a dedicated officer, a family man, and a loyal friend to all those who knew him. One of the responsibilities he had within the LAPD over the years, was as a bomb technician. It was a skill that would come in handy one day.
It was a chilly December day: Christmas day to be exact, and Officer Thompson was headed towards the precinct. He didn’t always work Christmas, but every now and then he was glad to pick up the overtime and holiday pay that came along with the special detail…
It wasn’t as if he had missed Christmas breakfast or anything either. He didn’t have to go into work until after 2:00 p.m. So, after spending some quality holiday time with his loving family, Officer Thompson got into his uniform and headed out onto the 405 Freeway.
Officer Thompson was driving southbound on the 405 Freeway, just south of the 101 Freeway, when he noticed something odd happening on the northbound side of the road. A car was driving erratically, careening back and forth across lanes with abandon. It was clear they’d lost control…
Crash and Burn
The out-of-control vehicle on the northbound 405 had crashed headfirst into the center divider and stopped. A moment later, and the car burst into flames, with the driver still inside. Even from the officer’s vantage point, he could tell the driver was unconscious.
Most people who found themselves in such a situation, would follow their instincts. They’d do whatever they could to get as far away from the potentially explosive car as fast as humanly possible. Luckily for the flaming wreck’s unconscious driver, Don Thompson was not most people…
To Their Aid
The officer stopped his vehicle and ran to the aid of the unconscious driver trapped in his burning vehicle. Don Thompson was never the type to shy away from helping people, let alone citizens who were in his charge. He was on shift and a person needed help, so he did the only sensible thing…
Officer Thompson walked towards the car with one single-minded purpose. He was going to rescue the driver while other passing motorists called 911. It was, as we said earlier, the only sensible thing for a police officer to do. But first he had to figure out how he’d get him out without burning himself…
Thompson was unable to find a way into the car that didn’t involve him being burnt, so he opted for what was his last remaining plan Z: open the crushed and red hot car door with his bare hands. After a few attempts, he forced open the badly damaged front door.
It happened in the space of a few minutes, but Don probably thought it felt like mere seconds. He had wrenched open the car door and climbed into the boiling inferno to grab the driver, but there was a problem, his seat belt had become hopelessly locked tight. The driver was trapped by his own safety mechanism…
Cut the Belt
More and more arid smoke began to fill the vehicle. Flames had engulfed the entirety of the front seat and Officer Thompson was almost as trapped as the man he had come to save. He grabbed his pocket knife off his belt and started to slice into the tough nylon seatbelt.
Outside the car, several other motorists had seen the fire and stopped to help. Some were on their cell phones, talking to emergency personnel, and others were nearer still, waiting for any opening they might need to jump in and assist the officer. A moment later and Thompson’s knife hit home. The seatbelt was cut but something inside the car was rumbling…
Two of the other would-be rescuers grabbed hold of the man and helped Officer Thompson drag him from the car. They did it in just the nick of time too. No sooner had the officer and driver been laid out on the pavement, the fire spread throughout the entire car, engulfing it completely in crimson flames.
If the officer had been a second slower, neither he, nor the driver would have escaped the burning death cage with their lives. As it was, the car fire was already the sort of fire that only the most accomplished action hero stuntman could escape from. Officer Thompson was no action hero, and his rescue attempt resulted in some rather bad burns…
Back to Work
Thompson suffered severe first and second degree burns and a bit of a sore throat thanks to the smoke inhalation, but he was otherwise perfectly alright. After being treated for his burns though, and taking a few days off, Don was back at work. He had shrugged off the day’s death-defying rescue as merely “all in a day’s work.”
Do It Again
When asked if he would suffer the burns again or take such a risk to save someone’s life, he replied with an equally badass answer: one befitting such an act of badassery. “If I am physically capable of doing it I would give it my best.” His accolades for the act were far from over, however…
Sometime later, Officer Thompson was one of thirteen public safety officers awarded the Medal of Valor by President Obama. This medal is the highest honor for public safety officers and is awarded specifically to those officers who have exhibited exceptional courage in their attempts to save or protect others from harm. He was even invited to the White House to receive the honor.
Sign of the Times
Looking back to the ceremony, Officer Thompson had something to say about the world we live in. “We live in a time where people don’t care much about each other and we need to start caring about each other a bit more.” Wise words from a truly great man…
Not a Hero
Since that day, Thompson has received various awards besides the Medal of Valor. He has been recognized many times for his selflessly heroic actions that day. And yet, he doesn’t consider himself a hero. “Deep down inside I don’t really feel as if I’m a hero…I did something to help someone in a time of need.”
Keep in Touch
There’s an additional happy ending to the story as well. Officer Don Thompson and the unnamed but very grateful driver remain in contact to this day. It just goes to show you that there is some good in this world and that people are willing to do things to help one another.