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TED2011

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

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Back in New York, I am the head of development
00:15
for a non-profit called Robin Hood.
00:17
When I'm not fighting poverty, I'm fighting fires
00:20
as the assistant captain of a volunteer fire company.
00:22
Now in our town,
00:25
where the volunteers supplement a highly skilled career staff,
00:27
you have to get to the fire scene pretty early
00:30
to get in on any action.
00:32
I remember my first fire.
00:34
I was the second volunteer on the scene,
00:36
so there was a pretty good chance I was going to get in.
00:38
But still it was a real footrace against the other volunteers
00:41
to get to the captain in charge
00:43
to find out what our assignments would be.
00:45
When I found the captain,
00:47
he was having a very engaging conversation
00:49
with the homeowner,
00:51
who was surely having one of the worst days of her life.
00:53
Here it was, the middle of the night,
00:57
she was standing outside in the pouring rain,
00:59
under an umbrella, in her pajamas, barefoot,
01:02
while her house was in flames.
01:05
The other volunteer who had arrived just before me --
01:08
let's call him Lex Luther --
01:10
(Laughter)
01:13
got to the captain first
01:15
and was asked to go inside
01:17
and save the homeowner's dog.
01:20
The dog! I was stunned with jealousy.
01:23
Here was some lawyer or money manager
01:26
who, for the rest of his life, gets to tell people
01:28
that he went into a burning building
01:30
to save a living creature,
01:32
just because he beat me by five seconds.
01:34
Well, I was next.
01:37
The captain waved me over.
01:39
He said, "Bezos, I need you to go into the house.
01:41
I need you to go upstairs, past the fire,
01:44
and I need you to get this woman a pair of shoes."
01:47
(Laughter)
01:50
I swear.
01:53
So, not exactly what I was hoping for,
01:55
but off I went --
01:58
up the stairs, down the hall, past the 'real' firefighters,
02:00
who were pretty much done putting out the fire at this point,
02:03
into the master bedroom to get a pair of shoes.
02:06
Now I know what you're thinking,
02:09
but I'm no hero.
02:12
(Laughter)
02:14
I carried my payload back downstairs
02:19
where I met my nemesis
02:22
and the precious dog by the front door.
02:24
We took our treasures outside to the homeowner,
02:26
where, not surprisingly,
02:29
his received much more attention than did mine.
02:31
A few weeks later,
02:34
the department received a letter from the homeowner
02:36
thanking us for the valiant effort displayed
02:38
in saving her home.
02:40
The act of kindness she noted above all others:
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someone had even gotten her a pair of shoes.
02:45
(Laughter)
02:48
In both my vocation at Robin Hood
02:50
and my avocation as a volunteer firefighter,
02:52
I am witness to acts of generosity and kindness
02:54
on a monumental scale,
02:57
but I'm also witness to acts of grace and courage
02:59
on an individual basis.
03:01
And you know what I've learned?
03:03
They all matter.
03:05
So as I look around this room
03:07
at people who either have achieved,
03:09
or are on their way to achieving,
03:11
remarkable levels of success,
03:13
I would offer this reminder:
03:15
don't wait.
03:17
Don't wait until you make your first million
03:19
to make a difference in somebody's life.
03:21
If you have something to give,
03:23
give it now.
03:25
Serve food at a soup kitchen. Clean up a neighborhood park.
03:27
Be a mentor.
03:30
Not every day is going to offer us a chance
03:32
to save somebody's life,
03:34
but every day offers us an opportunity to affect one.
03:36
So get in the game. Save the shoes.
03:39
Thank you.
03:42
(Applause)
03:44
Bruno Giussani: Mark, Mark, come back.
03:49
(Applause)
03:51
Mark Bezos: Thank you.
03:58

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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.

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.

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