Acts of Courage Awards: Past winner talks about what it takes to be a hero

AKRON, Ohio --  Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Some are born to help others. Then there are the people who just happen to be in the right place at the right time.

That was the case for John Underwood. It was a warm evening in May of 2014, and a storm blew through. At one point, there was a tornado warning and a torrential downpour happening near his home in Cuyahoga Falls.

Underwood was heading over to help his sister, when the roads flooded. He saw some other drivers get stuck, so he hopped out of his truck to help. “My belief is that, you know, I’ve got the ability to help someone. And if I have the ability to do good, then I should do it. There should be no excuses,” he said.

Underwood wasn’t out of his vehicle long before he heard a cry for help.

“They were screaming, 'my parents, my parents!'”

Moments later, a 12-year-old boy ran up to Underwood, and said his parents were trapped.

Mike and Michaelanne Hammonds went to get some things from the basement, when the weight of the rain caused the walls to collapse around them.

Not only were they trapped, but the water was rising fast. Time was of the essence, and Underwood and a few others jumped in to action. One grabbed a saw and the other an ax, and they started cutting through the floor. Luckily, Underwood had experience as a contractor.

“Ripping a hole in the living room floor, I kinda knew my way around to be able to do it fairly safely,” he said.

With some muscle and patience, and a lot of bravery, Underwood saved the Hammonds’ lives. He says he did what anyone would do, but that’s not necessarily true. It’s hard to put yourself in harm’s way to rescue another.

That’s why the American Red Cross honors those “unsung heroes.”

Ann Otto is helping to head up the 23rd Annual Acts of Courage Awards. They honor those who have acted courageously and selflessly in a time of emergency.

“It’s just someone that does something outside the norm to help a fellow citizen,” Otto said. “They always say, ‘oh anyone would do it.’ But I think we all know that’s not the case.”

This year’s awards are focused on the people of Summit, Portage, and Medina counties. The event alone will raise more than $130,000 to support the services of the local American Red Cross.

If you’d like to nominate someone you feel falls into the “Act of Courage” category, click here.

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