Imagine this…you’re with your parents, your wife and your two children, headed home from a long awaited vacation in New York City. You board a plane headed back to the real world and your job as a fireman. Suddenly, you hear a “pop” and chaos floods in as emergency oxygen masks are deployed and everyone acts out the emergency steps the flight attendant covered just moments before your plane took off. Your wife is beside you, your children are looking at you to determine how to respond, and you find yourself managing a surreal situation that all seems like a scene from a movie you’d like to end. You don’t know whether the plane is going down, or if each passing moment will be the last minute spent with your loved ones. You hear a commotion a few rows away and you look your wife straight in the eye and you know what you have to do. “Go”, she says, “They need you more than we do right now.” What would you do?
Andrew Needum, a firefighter from Celina, Texas was faced with this very decision. It took only his servant heart and human instinct to “run in” to help his fellow man. Andrew was only rows away from a very difficult scene to process on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380. After debris from an engine explosion flew through the window where 43 year old Jennifer Riordan was sitting, passenger Tim McGinty, another heroic passenger, rushed to pull Riordan back inside of the plane. It was when Andrew helped the man retrieve her from the window, that they were able to pull her back inside. At that time, Needum performed CPR on Jennifer, a banking executive from New Mexico. Regrettably, she obtained fatal head injuries and did not survive.
A bizarre accident that resulted in the death of a fellow passenger, are too few words to describe what really happened on Tuesday. Anyone reading this could have been in any one of those seats on that Southwest flight…with their wife, their mother or their children. The only thought that makes that truth easier to process is the fact that there are real men in this world…fathers, sons and brothers that “run in” to help when it is needed.
Andrew proved that. They “run in” to make a difference, even when their own are looking them in the face. Specifically because their own are looking them in the face. Witnessing. A little 8 year old boy and a 6 year old girl saw their father, who did not have to help (as no one knew he was a Fireman) but DID. And for no reason other than that is who he is. He did it because it was the right thing to do. His own children witnessed that first hand, as well as an airplane full of strangers that I have no doubt are proud to have shared that plane with two modern day heroes who are too humble to claim the status.
An interesting side note that has yet to be shared is that Celina, Texas has recently received media attention for producing other newsworthy heroes. Wendy Gracy, and David Heron were recognized as two “Angels Among Us” for their part in an 18 year old story of Caleb Electric Brain, a boy searching for the nurse and first responders that “ran in” and saved his life after a fatal car crash. A press conference last December lead to a happy reunion for these two Celina residents and for a second press conference to be held regarding another hero from this small Texas town is nothing short of miraculous. The fact that Gracy, Andrew and his wife Stephanie are all friends that are as close as family, is a direct reflection of the love in this community and a testimony to the quality of people that have roots and wings there.
Andrew’s story has made national headlines for good reason, but has yet to be fully told. There will be an abundance of sources eager to tell it. The take-away from today’s press conference is that sometimes heroes wear street clothes and sometimes they are in uniform. The silver lining that provides hope in the midst of tragedy is that they’re out there, and they’re “running in” regardless, and despite any unknown outcome.
It has been said that the character of a man is established when no one is looking. Andrew didn’t set out to be a hero on Tuesday, and although the outcome wasn’t what he’d hoped for, he’s a hero because he chose to be a fireman on a day he didn’t have to be. For every person a fireman or first responder can’t save, there are thousands that they do. The outcome isn’t what makes a hero, the willingness to be a divine steward is. Especially in a situation where a commitment to the outcome is solely rooted in who you are as a human and without any tangible reward obtained because of it.
The next time you board a plane or pass a stranger on the street, know that you’re sitting and walking amongst heroes. When you think about what you would do under circumstances outside of your control, know that at any moment you could be called to be a hero in your own life as well as in the lives of others. What will your witnesses say about you? Andrew Needum’s son called him a “Hero” and the name is fitting. Sometimes you’re a hero because of who is watching and who you decide to be, and if you ask the heroes and angels among us, being from Celina, Texas, definitely doesn’t hurt either.
Jodie Brownd | Cedarbrook Media