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Volunteer Vision: February 2019

I’m not a big fan of the word “hero” for a couple of reasons. One is that I think it is used all too frequently, and the second is that I believe everyone is a hero to someone, most of the time.

February 1, 2019  By Vince MacKenzie

One of the definitions in the dictionary defines hero as one who shows great courage. Another is a person admired for achievements and noble qualities.

It is the hockey season just now and many Canadians turn their attention to their favourite team and closely follow their favourite players. Media broadcasts of the sport showcase their star players and accomplishments. These stars become icons and their names become household names. Some of these athletes get labeled as heroes. These players also end up symbolizing the game and eventually rise to mega-stardom.

Our passion for sports and leisure can sometimes be called an obsession, and we all know some die-hard fans who devote their life interests to a certain team logo or player.

We idolize our sports heroes and shower them with accolades and endorsements. Many times, people aspire to be the next Great One through the influence of our mentors.


Then there is the political world where Canadians who follow politics see the leaders, whether it’s on the municipal, provincial or national level. These folks get showcased in many media reports and we also see the rising and sometimes falling stars of that world.

Our political leaders have been held high to become heroes when times of crisis arise in governments or political strife. We also see many politicians who champion causes and become heroes to their causes within the community or their followers. Politics tends to be more of a love-hate relationship, I’ll admit.

Are they truly heroes as we understand heroics to be?  

It is ironic that, when disaster strikes our communities and citizens, their first call is not to a sports or political superstar. When Canadians have life-threatening emergencies such as accidents, fires or a disaster, their first call is to you, the hometown volunteer firefighter.  

When people of your community are having the worst day of their lives, you are their first call in minutes, if not seconds. You are part of the hometown superstar team that will assemble for the mighty game, where so much is on the line, and you faithfully answer the call.

All those previously called heroes that get so much attention and accolades are usually farthest from mind when tragedy strikes. Volunteer firefighters are the first line of defence for many towns and rural municipalities. We are the force to protect communities against tragedy.

Again, I am not comfortable with the term hero, but in many circumstances you and your team are the hometown heroes. Never underestimate the heroics you exhibit on every call.  

None of us joined to be called a hero, but the courage to volunteer and commit to the lifestyle that that demands is certainly heroic to me. I think that first responders, and especially volunteer firefighters, are greater than any of the sports or political heroes that so often get recognition.  

As you read this, I would like you to ask yourself, “Who is your hero in your fire service career?” I am sure you have some. Think about who has really made a difference to you and the reasons why.  

I implore you to be the best you can be and be heroic to others in your efforts to better your department. When you train harder and give it everything you have got, you mentor those around you to aspire to be a little better every day. Therefore, you become that definition of a hero.

The firefighter who aspires to be better and train faithfully to a higher standard, and continues to be motivated to lead others, is a hero in my books. Real heroes are the ones who can keep the pace going all through their tenure as a volunteer firefighter. Are you a hero in the eyes of your colleagues?

While I am not fond of the term, the definition has true meaning and we all must work hard to be a hero in our communities, even though we are not comfortable with the term. Be a silent and humble hero to everyone around you.

Vince MacKenzie is the fire chief in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L. He is an executive member of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and the past president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services. Email Vince at and follow him on Twitter at @FirechiefVince.

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