From the Field

What is a hero

Posted: Jul 3, 2013 2:43 PM ET Last Updated: Jul 3, 2013 2:43 PM ET
A quiet thump carries through the morning fog as a family of five gathers beneath the iconic white and red lighthouse. The sea is gentle today,  but you can hear it slap the rocks. A breeze begins to pull the fog back and the family poses, smiling as a friend snaps a few pictures. Another Peggy's Cove moment. 

Nearby, Jason Sparkes and Gregory Kutney climb the rounded rocks stepping carefully over each crevice. Gregory jokes that Jason's boots are too clean. Jason is in the Navy; he can polish boots. Gregory is an intern at the IWK where footwear gets covered in booties anyway. Both men are also volunteer fire-fighters. They shared a more memorable Peggy's Cove moment.

It happened here on a night when the waves didn't slap the rocks. They pounded with a deadly violence that must be witnessed. I know because I was here that night too. I don't know if I saw them. There were firefighters and police everywhere. It was dark, wet and dangerous and I was too busy covering the story of the young man pulled from the rocks by one of those waves. We all knew he wasn't coming back out of the water.

On that night I reported that a man died. There was a footnote to the story. A close call for two RCMP officers and two firefighters during the desperate rescue attempt. Today I am back in Peggy's Cove to take a closer look at that footnote.

Jason and Gregory reach the top of the rocks and pause looking down toward the ocean. Gregory quickly points to the spot where Jason was swept into the water the first time that night. Jason ducks beneath the jagged outcropping and points to where he grabbed rock and held on as the water pulled. He says it feels strange to stand there now.

It seems stranger that on that night after being pulled into the surging waves once he continued to move into the storm, further down the rocks to the ocean. He did it because he could hear the cries for help from the RCMP officer who only seconds before was part of the rescue team. Now, the waves were pounding him into the rocks like a piece of driftwood.

Another wave knocked Jason into the water,  and with him a second RCMP officer trying to reach his partner. With three rescuers struggling in the waves,  Gregory Kutney moved closer. He says he never thought of moving to higher ground. His only thought was that we all need to get out of here. Remarkably in a nightmare of tangled rope, surging water and driving wind they did.

Hero is a bloated word in this business. It gets tossed around so much it almost has no meaning. Still, you can't do this for a living and not stumble across people who will remind you what the word really means. Gregory Kutney and Jason Sparkes are two. As we leave another group poses for a picture. I can't help thinking they are missing something more remarkable than a lighthouse.
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About the Author

Phonse Jessome has been chasing stories down the main streets and back roads of Nova Scotia since the spring of 1981. So far he is showing no signs of giving up the chase.

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