— Photo by Andrea Gunn/The Advertiser
He’s a bit of shy person when it comes to talking about himself, but when you get him chatting about social media it’s hard to get a question in edgewise.
Grand Falls-Windsor fire Chief Vince MacKenzie’s passion for the power of Twitter and Facebook is evident in the way he uses it and how he helped emergency services with the dissemination of information during the blackout in early January.
Between his tweets about carbon monoxide poisoning,tips about how to stay safe and the retweets, he reached thousands of people not only in his region, and around the province, but throughout the country.
During a recent interview with The Telegram, the personable firefighter talked endlessly about his appreciation for social media, but when asked to answer questions about himself he wasn’t as forthcoming, saying he’d rather talk about fire services than himself.
He’s passionate about fire safety, protecting the public and tweeting the facts.
The limitation of 140 characters is one of the things he said he likes the most about Twitter — less chance of sending out the wrong message.
MacKenzie, who is also president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services, said his use of social media has led to him being invited to give presentations on how best to use it by other fire safety organizations across the country.
“I see it as an exciting tool for fire safety and public fire education,” he said from his office Grand Falls-Windsor, where he’s been the town’s fire chief for 10 years.
“I’ve been using it as a way to keep the public informed on how to plan and prepare for emergencies and fire prevention, and also to interact in times of crisis.”
A self-admitted geek, he said at the age of 18, he became a firefighter and was never one to shy away from technology.
When Twitter and Facebook came along, he said, he embraced it and it has become as much a part of his firefighting equipment as his helmet and boots.
During a recent conference he was sitting through a slide presentation, and he said he was shocked to see his Twitter page appear on the screen. It was being used as an example of how fire services can use social media to get pertinent, correct information out.
“So it kind of validated what I’ve been doing,” MacKenzie said proudly.
During the blackout, he was able to provide much needed information because Grand Falls-Windsor, for the most part, had power. If it didn’t he said he probably would have asked someone to tweet for him.
“I have learned over the years, the importance of it and during emergencies it can’t be underestimated,” he said.
“In emergency situations from now on Twitter and Facebook will be the most important things we, as emergency managers, got to manage. If we ignore it the public takes over and wrong information can get out there,” he said.
As of last week, @FirechiefVince had 1,949 followers and 1,955 tweets.
What is your full name?
Vince John MacKenzie.
Where and when were you born?
Grand Falls 1964.
Where is home today?
What was one act of rebellion you committed as a youth?
Never was much of a rebe. Liked to be having fun all the time and make people laugh.
What was your favourite year?
1997 — the year my daughter was born.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Probably doing the same job I am in now, as I am pretty content doing what I do. I love my job, the challenges, and success that it brings everyday.
What is your favourite food?
What are five songs in your music collection?
“Sixteen for a While” — Sons of Maxwell; Navigators — “Days gone by”; Blue Rodeo — “Head over Heels”; Journey — “Don’t Stop Believing”; Irish Descendants — “Peter Street”; anything Irish or Newfoundland traditional.
Who would play you in a movie about your life?
What is your greatest regret?
Not learning music as a subject in school.
What’s the toughest thing about your job?
Witnessing death and destruction of people during emergencies. No one ever gets used to that.
If you could visit or live in another time, when would that be and why?
I’d like to visit the future about 50 years out, just to see if our time becomes obsolete from a technology perspective.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done?
I get to do cool things regularly with my job as a fire chief and firefighter. Helping people through crisis and the worst day of their lives, to me, is a cool thing and gives me great satisfaction of worth. Coolest thing for me has to be interacting with school kids, teaching fire prevention in the classroom. I always said the coolest thing about our job is inspiring children.
What was the most vivid dream you’ve ever had?
Some nightmares of things that I have witnessed that I rather not discuss.
What’s the strangest thing that has ever happened to you?
Wow. I get to witness strange things happen all the time. I guess the strangest is being involved as a victim of my own house fire in 1998. To be in this profession and then be on the receiving end was indeed strage and surreal, but gave different insight as to what we do.
Who inspires you?
Easy, Cmdr. Chris Hadfield — his journey parallels mine on a much larger scale. I have always been interested in his career. Train and prepare all your life for a position in life and keep the good attitude to get there. Firefighters do much the same in training constantly.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I think I have an underdeveloped affinity for music. I like to sing on occasion. Mostly by myself though.
What is your most treasured possession?
My daughter if you can consider her a possession, definitely most treasured part of my life.
Who is one person, living or deceased, you’d love to have lunch with?