Volunteer firefighter recognized with federal award

August 13, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Sam Odrowski

A Dufferin County resident recently received a special award from the region’s member of parliament for his selfless acts of kindness and generosity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Randy Narine, who operates Choices Youth Shelter in Orangeville and is a volunteer firefighter for the Shelburne Fire Department, received the COVID-19 Local Community Hero Award from Dufferin–Caledon MP Kyle Seeback.

A large part of why he received the award is for the programs he runs for at-risk or less fortunate youth and a program he started during the pandemic, which was self-funded, that provides financial assistance to families impacted by job losses due to COVID-19.

Being born in Trinidad and moving to Canada in his youth, Narine said he hasn’t always felt welcomed in the country, but receiving recognition for his community involvement makes him feel that sense of belonging.

“To be honest, I don’t do any of the work that I do for recognition… but it feels nice to be recognized and I feel extremely proud because one of the things I hear all the time is I’m not from here,” said Narine.

“When I first moved here [to Shelburne], eight years ago, there was a lot of pushback… that wasn’t very nice. Even though I was doing work in the community, you didn’t hear very nice things being said to you. So it’s nice to hear positive things about you now in the same community that you live in,” he added.

Narine told the Citizen he grew up poor and didn’t have much when he first came to Canada from Trinidad in 1991, around 12 years of age. He said he’s been fortunate enough to do well for himself financially in his adult life so he’s motivated to give back to others in a variety of ways.

There was a pivotal moment for Narine that led him down the path of helping others.

As a youth, shortly after coming to Canada, he saved up a stack of Canadian Tire money to buy his parents something small for Christmas. He said the item would have only been a few dollars but being new to the country, he wasn’t aware of sales tax so he had the exact sticker price of the item. When the cashier rang him up, he was short roughly 30 cents short and shocked he didn’t have enough money to cover the purchase.

“I was actually in tears because I didn’t know what to do. I was like I don’t understand, I calculated the math, but I still didn’t have enough,” Narine recalled.

“Then this lady behind me actually gave the difference and… I always remember that feeling of what it was like for someone to help you. It meant nothing to her but it meant the world to me.”

Narine said even today he still frequently thinks about that interaction and how he felt in that moment, which is part of what motivates him to do all of the volunteer work he does today.

Back when Narine moved to Shelburne from the GTA eight years ago, he was searching for local volunteer opportunities but had little luck at first.

At the time he was still volunteering in the GTA as a Rotarian and running kids camps, but wanted to find something closer to his new home in Shelburne as the regular drive back and forth from the city was taxing. He began searching for local opportunities, reaching out to many organizations but was unsuccessful in finding a good fit.

His awareness of the Shelburne Fire Department came about when Ed Walsh from the Town’s Public Works Department came by his house to fix a water leak. Walsh was the acting Fire Chief at the time and said he had heard about Narine’s desire to volunteer locally.

Walsh told him the local fire department was in need of volunteers and with Narine being a bigger guy that’s in good shape, he said that he would make a good fit.

“He [Walsh] said, there’s no greater community work you could do then to be a firefighter and he said, if you want to do something to help the community, this is it,” Narine recalled.

After thinking it over for 24 hours, he expressed his interest and the rest is history.

Following roughly seven months of training, interviews, and tests, he said he got out in the field and fell in love with his new role.

“It was a remarkable thing that I did with joining the fire department and I would never turn back from it. I can’t even believe that this was never presented to me when I was younger,” Narine said.

The most rewarding part of his firefighting work is helping people in the community through really difficult situations, he told Citizen.

“It’s literally going to people on the worst day and trying to fix their problems and we can’t always fix people’s problems, but just the satisfaction of being able to go there and trying our best to help somebody is one of the greatest feelings you could ever have,” noted Narine.

However, he said when things are out of your control, it can be incredibly challenging.

“You can’t help everybody and you have to be able to be okay with that,” said Narine.

He shared that many firefighters develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from those situations where they’re unable to help everyone in an emergency.

One of his first calls as a volunteer firefighter in Shelburne was very tragic and he noted that the firefighters on the local force have become their own support system. They all have an understanding of what each other are going through, having all responded to those difficult calls. 

“Everybody sees the glorious parts of firefighting and there definitely are a lot of glorious things, but what people don’t realize is the majority of what we do as firefighters is very traumatic,” he said.

Narine now works as a firefighter full time in Brampton and noted he wouldn’t be where he is today if it wasn’t for the strong support system among Shelburne’s volunteer firefighting team.

In terms of Narine’s involvement with homeless shelters, he’s been volunteering in the field for around 10 years.

“One thing I tell everybody is I was very close to being homeless, living in Canada,” he said.

Narine started a company in his mid to late 20s and was struggling heavily to make ends meet as it first started up.

It was in 2008, a year after his son was born, the Great Recession hit and financially things weren’t looking great.

“If it wasn’t for my parents delivering food for me, I wouldn’t have eaten,” Narine recalled.

The rent for the house out of which he was operating his business was high and the first few months of him living there were a struggle.

“I kept wanting to hang up my hat and then it was around maybe three months in is when I received a lot of cheques in the mail from customers who I was doing work for. Then all of the sudden things completely flipped and my business took off,” said Narine.

“I did very, very well for myself up until I sold my company to McCain Foods but I was very close to being homeless and losing everything.”

Knowing what it means to struggle financially first hand and be at risk of homelessness, Narine told the Citizen he’s felt the desire to give back in whatever ways he can.

Going forward he said he plans to continue his volunteer work with Choices Youth Shelter and the Shelburne Fire Department.

“I absolutely love what I do. I love volunteering in the community I love, essentially, just bringing joy to people that are in need,” he enthused.

Narine added that he’d encourage fellow residents of Dufferin County to also get involved and volunteer whenever they can.

“In terms of volunteer work – more people need to do it. There’s a huge need for it,” he said. “If you could spare an hour a week, you’d be surprised how much that would help an organization that needs it.”

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