Mark Bezos: A life lesson from a volunteer firefighter
March 2, 2011
Volunteer firefighter Mark Bezos tells a story of an act of heroism that didn't go quite as expected -- but that taught him a big lesson: Don't wait to be a hero.Mark Bezos
- Activist, volunteer firefighter
Mark Bezos works at Robin Hood, a poverty-fighting charity in New York City, and the assistant captain of a volunteer fire company in suburban New York. Full bio
Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Back in New York, I am the head of development
for a non-profit called Robin Hood.
When I'm not fighting poverty, I'm fighting fires
as the assistant captain of a volunteer fire company.
Now in our town,
where the volunteers supplement a highly skilled career staff,
you have to get to the fire scene pretty early
to get in on any action.
I remember my first fire.
I was the second volunteer on the scene,
so there was a pretty good chance I was going to get in.
But still it was a real footrace against the other volunteers
to get to the captain in charge
to find out what our assignments would be.
When I found the captain,
he was having a very engaging conversation
with the homeowner,
who was surely having one of the worst days of her life.
Here it was, the middle of the night,
she was standing outside in the pouring rain,
under an umbrella, in her pajamas, barefoot,
while her house was in flames.
The other volunteer who had arrived just before me --
let's call him Lex Luther --
got to the captain first
and was asked to go inside
and save the homeowner's dog.
The dog! I was stunned with jealousy.
Here was some lawyer or money manager
who, for the rest of his life, gets to tell people
that he went into a burning building
to save a living creature,
just because he beat me by five seconds.
Well, I was next.
The captain waved me over.
He said, "Bezos, I need you to go into the house.
I need you to go upstairs, past the fire,
and I need you to get this woman a pair of shoes."
So, not exactly what I was hoping for,
but off I went --
up the stairs, down the hall, past the 'real' firefighters,
who were pretty much done putting out the fire at this point,
into the master bedroom to get a pair of shoes.
Now I know what you're thinking,
but I'm no hero.
I carried my payload back downstairs
where I met my nemesis
and the precious dog by the front door.
We took our treasures outside to the homeowner,
where, not surprisingly,
his received much more attention than did mine.
A few weeks later,
the department received a letter from the homeowner
thanking us for the valiant effort displayed
in saving her home.
The act of kindness she noted above all others:
someone had even gotten her a pair of shoes.
In both my vocation at Robin Hood
and my avocation as a volunteer firefighter,
I am witness to acts of generosity and kindness
on a monumental scale,
but I'm also witness to acts of grace and courage
on an individual basis.
And you know what I've learned?
They all matter.
So as I look around this room
at people who either have achieved,
or are on their way to achieving,
remarkable levels of success,
I would offer this reminder:
Don't wait until you make your first million
to make a difference in somebody's life.
If you have something to give,
give it now.
Serve food at a soup kitchen. Clean up a neighborhood park.
Be a mentor.
Not every day is going to offer us a chance
to save somebody's life,
but every day offers us an opportunity to affect one.
So get in the game. Save the shoes.
Bruno Giussani: Mark, Mark, come back.
Mark Bezos: Thank you.
- Activist, volunteer firefighter
Mark Bezos works at Robin Hood, a poverty-fighting charity in New York City, and the assistant captain of a volunteer fire company in suburban New York.Why you should listen
Mark Bezos is the SVP, Development, Communications & Events at Robin Hood, the leading poverty-fighting charity in New York City. Bezos joined Robin Hood following the sale of his advertising agency, excited to have found a way to use his powers of persuasion for good.
Bezos is the Assistant Captain of a volunteer fire company in Westchester County, New York, where he lives with his wife and four children. He is continuously amazed and motivated by the everyday acts of heroism--big and small--that surround him.
The original video is available on TED.com