They always say they're just doing their jobs, but of course it's much more than just that, because being a cop or firefighter puts you in the crosshairs of tragedy. Do you shoot or be shot? Do you go bravely into a fire or stand back?
"You have to make that decision. No other profession has to make that decision in the line of duty," Mayor Daley said.
For policemen and firefighters, life is usually filled with average days, routine assignments. And then suddenly, from out of nowhere, comes a day that changes lives. And that's what this is all about.
These are the best of the best from the past year, and each one is a story of courage and bravery. Thirty-two men and women who risked their lives to save others.
The police department's top award, the Lambert Tree Medal, went to Detective Dominick Ciccola, who put an end to string of 25 dangerous armed robberies. On May 6, 2009, on the Far Northwest Side, Detective Ciccola, because of good police work, anticipated where the armed robber might strike next. He and his partner were waiting for the armed man outside a gas station.
"He waved the weapon toward me, and threatened by life and my partner's life, and I used deadly force," said Ciccola.
And firefighter paramedic Jason Durbin, the Carter Harrison Award winner, was off-duty when he spotted a fire in a Sandburg Terrace high-rise.
Durbin raced up 28 stories without any equipment on to rescue a woman who was trapped in heavy smoke.
"When I got done with it, for a second I had to pinch myself, because it couldn't have been what really just happened, but you can do amazing things," said Durbin.
Amazing is right.
And next year there will be just as many stories of valor.