Keith Johnson, Deseret News
Kevin Williams, with Salt Lake County Public Works, stands next to a bulldozer. He helped save more than 30 homes in Herriman.

Selfless service takes many forms. There are those admirable souls who read to the blind, mentor disadvantaged children or clean the sides of highways. And then there is Kevin Williams.

He may not have been a volunteer in the traditional sense. Williams didn't sign up to save 32 homes from the inferno in Herriman that has become known as the Machine Gun Fire. He just happened to answer the phone when the Unified Fire Authority called the landfill where he works as an environmental specialist and asked if someone could bring a bulldozer to help fight a fast-moving fire.

In a real sense, he "answered the call." Then he answered it again in a much larger sense. Williams didn't know the terrain. It was dark and smoky. He could feel the heat of the flames on one side, and he knew there was a steep, rocky hillside somewhere on the other, and he just kept going. For four-and-a-half hours he plowed a trench that turned into a fire line that made sure many people had a home to come back to when the fire was over.

Arthur Ashe, the American tennis star, may have captured it best when he said, "True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost."

The only part Ashe got wrong in this instance is that Williams' work was anything but undramatic. There were flames and high winds and firefighters behind him setting back fires that sped up the mountainside. A bush caught fire next to his bulldozer and firefighters had to attack it quickly. It was, Williams admitted, "scary."

Utahns are famous for volunteerism. As we noted a few days ago, Utah ranks first in the nation, with an volunteer rate of 44.2 percent. But that quality isn't just exhibited in a willingness to give money or time in a formal, planned way. It comes freely when someone is in need; when sandbags have to be filled ahead of a rising flood; when a child is missing and a search party is formed; or when a fire breaks out unexpectedly on a clear September afternoon.

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Herriman's fire produced several heroes. There were the firefighters who beat back flames that at one point were advancing at an estimated 25 mph. There were people who opened their homes to temporary refugees. There were others who helped evacuees round up irreplaceable items and cart them away. Each helped turn a tragedy that claimed three homes into something less than a total disaster for many others.

But Williams, who says he was "just doing what I was told to do," embodied their collective spirit perfectly.