Hero Helps Under-Equipped Fire Departments
Mark S. Warnick, retired assistant fire chief with the Brixey and Rockbridge, Mo. Volunteer Fire Department (VFD), turned founder and equipment donations coordinator of the non-profit organization, Helping Our Own, has been named the 2004 Stihl National Forestry Heroism Award recipient.
Warnick, a volunteer fire and rescue veteran, created Helping Our Own in 2000 after being asked to find much-needed equipment for his own fire department in Brixey and Rockbridge, Mo. After testifying before the Missouri State Senate on the department’s critical equipment shortage, Warnick garnered significant publicity, which in turn, resulted in an outpouring of donated equipment from better-equipped fire departments across Missouri and along the East Coast. Receiving more equipment than one small fire department could use, Warnick was able to outfit 15 other fire departments in his county with additional firefighting, safety gear and emergency medical equipment.
This was the beginning of Helping Our Own, which is now headquartered in Michigan.
Warnick soon after retired from his position at the Brixey and Rockbridge, Mo. VFD, and moved to Jackson, Mich. He sold the majority of his possessions and took out personal loans to dedicate his life to supplying financially challenged fire departments with the essential firefighting and medical equipment necessary to protect firefighters, lives and property. Today, Warnick tirelessly volunteers 14- to 16-hour days, locating and delivering donated gear nationwide to hundreds of mostly rural volunteer fire departments with annual budgets of $15,000 or less. To date, Helping Our Own has donated approximately $28.3 million of used equipment to more than 610 fire departments across the country.
Eight years ago, Stihl created the National Forestry Heroism Award, giving special recognition each year to one extraordinary individual who works with, in, or devotes a significant portion of his or her time to the forestry industry. The award was inspired by the Storm King Mountain Fire in Colorado, which took the lives of 14 wildland firefighters in June 1994. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Storm King Mountain tragedy. Nominations are open to firefighters, loggers, forest and park rangers, and other individuals employed in the care and maintenance of our nation’s forests. A panel of independent judges in the industry selects the recipient based on such criteria as the impact of the candidate’s action for the good of society, the impact of the candidate’s action for the good of the forestry industry, and how memorable the candidate’s action was.
Secretary Ann Veneman, U.S. Department of Agriculture, presented the Stihl National Forestry Heroism Award to Warnick at a ceremony on June 10, 2004 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
“Mark Warnick is a hero of a different kind a true champion of fire departments in short supply of the fire equipment and gear necessary to save lives and property,” said Ken Waldron, national marketing manager for Stihl Inc. “He is a wonderful example of one who has fulfilled his passion to serve others, and we at Stihl are proud to have him hold this most deserved honor.”
Chuck Leavell, renowned tree farmer, conservationist, and keyboardist for the Rolling Stones, participated in the presentation, as well.
As this year’s recipient, Warnick received the Stihl National Forestry Heroism Award plaque and monetary gift. Stihl also made a contribution to Warnick’s Helping Our Own organization; and because Warnick is a resident of Michigan, Michigan State University’s Department of Forestry received a contribution, as well.
“Four years ago, I realized my mission in life was to help fire departments in need,” said Warnick. “I do not consider myself a hero, let alone the traditional forestry hero. I’m most fulfilled knowing that the equipment Helping Our Own provides to hundreds of fire departments across the country are saving an unknown number of lives and thousands of acres of property. I am extremely grateful to the volunteers and sponsors who have been instrumental in the overwhelming success of Helping Our Own, and most appreciative to Stihl Inc. for their support in our efforts.”
Nominations for the 2005 Stihl National Forestry Heroism Award are now being accepted.
Applications can be downloaded from Stihl’s Web site, www.stihlusa.com.