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Opinion: Some heroes drive city buses

How did your work week begin? Early wake-up? Dozens of unread emails? Long line at Starbucks?

Anastasios Adamopoulos was at the wheel of his Route 71 South Shore Chicago Transit Authority bus shortly after 2 a.m. Monday morning, when he and his only passenger, Chris Campbell, saw what looked like the sky catching fire.

"It was like flames were burning up some houses and reaching for the heavens," Adamopoulos told us. "It was so intense and frightening."

Some of us might see flames while riding on a bus in the middle of the night and call 911 to report, "Hey, there's a fire!" and feel we've been diligent citizens. We might record video of the flames as we roll past, to post online and say, "So scary! Thoughts and prayers!"

But Adamopoulos stopped his bus. He turned to his passenger. And together, they ran toward the burning buildings to warn the people inside.

"2 in the morning, we thought they were sleeping," he told us. "We started banging, banging on doors and yelling 'fire, fire, fire!' at the top of our lungs, just trying to wake people up. We didn't think about getting hurt. Just getting people out."

There were about 14 people inside those two burning buildings. Several were children. Police say they all got out safely, including a neighbor who suffers from dementia. Then they all took shelter on Adamopoulos' bus, while firefighters arrived and put out the flames.

The Chicago Sun-Times reportsthat the damage to both the buildings seems extensive. But everyone who was inside is safe.

We're living in times when it's easy to see frightful images from all over the world and see them as someone else's tragedy. What made Adamopoulos and his passenger risk their own safety to run toward the burning buildings?

"I don't know," he said. "I didn't think about it. I think I just did what anyone else would do," which is a statement that may say a lot about how Adamopoulos sees the world.

He stayed on the parked bus for about an hour with the people he'd helped rescue, until emergency crews and family could arrive to care for them. Then he climbed back into the driver's seat and resumed his route through the city's pre-dawn streets.

"It's my duty," Adamopoulos told us.

Not all heroes wear capes. Some of them wear the round, blue shoulder patch of the Chicago Transit Authority.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.