To intervene or not to intervene? Two unrelated incidents in Toronto this weekend underscore the potential hazards when crisis unfolds in a public place and citizens pitch in.
In one instance a life was probably saved, but at great personal risk.
In the other, a bystander nearly got himself and another onlooker killed by a pair of armed bank robbers.
The first incident took place at Yorkdale subway station Saturday evening, when a man awaiting a southbound train tumbled on to the tracks, apparently because of a medical condition, and struck his head.
Rescue, however, was at hand in the shape of a father and his daughter who jumped down on the tracks and lifted the man back on the platform, where first aid was performed until paramedics arrived.
The tale had a happy ending, with the man listed in hospital in stable condition, and in a news release police hailed the two Good Samaritans who "acted without regard to their safety, to rescue this stranger from what would have been a fatal fall."
But how wise the pair were, in acting as they did, is moot.
"We're very thankful that it worked out, however there was a huge possibility there could have been three fatals at that subway," Constable Wendy Drummond said.
A far better course, she said, would have been to have hit one of the two blue-lit emergency buttons found at the end of each platform, which immediately cuts electrical power to the train rails.
But even with that done, then, suggested Toronto Transit Commission spokesman Brad Ross, onlookers should alert authorities to the crisis rather than climb down on to the tracks.
"We really discourage that, go to the collector or the designated waiting area where there's an intercom," he said.
"We appreciate that this worked out but we really don't want you to go down on the tracks, you don't know for a fact that (the power) has been cut, so let the professionals do that."
The second incident that saw a public-minded individual put himself in harm's way – a violent Sunday afternoon robbery in the city's west end – was even more dangerous.
It happened when two bank robbers armed with a handgun burst into a Toronto-Dominion bank on St. Clair Avenue, just west of Runnymede, and demanded that the staff and the half dozen customers hit the floor and hand over cash.
One customer, identified as a 54-year-old roofer, balked. A struggle ensued and the handgun was discharged, hitting a 22-year-old female teller in the leg.
As the robbers fled outside to the parking lot with a bag of money, booby trapped with a package of red dye that exploded, spraying dye on the money, the roofer chased them out the door and this time he got shot in the stomach.
The robbers – two black men in their 20s wearing jeans and hoodies – fled in a green stolen Honda Civic car and on Monday a major investigation was under way into the heist, which marked the first time in many years that a Toronto bank robbery has left anybody shot and wounded.
And although both victims are expected to recover, detectives stressed that a confrontation such as this is an extremely bad idea.
"Co-operate with the robbers because it's the money that they're after," Staff-Inspector Mike Earl of the holdup squad told reporters who gathered outside the bank Sunday.
"We advise the banking industry, employees and customers … just turn your money over."
The stolen Honda was later recovered but the hunt continued for the robbers, both described as armed and dangerous.