Firefighter Mark McEntire looked out at the faces of the crowd at last weekend’s Hearts on Fire event in downtown Conway, and it made him feel good.
Cancer survivors and supporters showed up for the second annual Firefighters for the Cure 5K and activities through Hearts on Fire, a program McEntire started last year.
McEntire was honored in September for his contributions by the Conway Rotary Club with a Service Before Self Award.
“It meant a lot. I don’t ever want to be singled out or recognized — I don’t do any of that for any kind of self-gratification,” McEntire said.
“Firefighters for the Cure is for our group of guys to do this. It’s a group effort,” he said.
He said Hearts on Fire was started after he and other firefighters were talking about their next cause, and he thought about October being breast-cancer awareness month.
McEntire’s wife, Carie, 40, is an eight-year breast-cancer survivor.
The Conway Fire Department painted a 1995 fire truck pink, and Hearts on Fire was formed to do fundraisers — such as the 5K — to support primarily women and children going through cancer treatments.
The money raised from the 5K and donations are used for Hearts on Fire’s good deeds.
“The Hearts on Fire group … those are the firefighters that go out and help practical needs of cancer patients in Faulkner County during treatment time,” McEntire said. “We’ve had blankets made up by Conway senior citizens; we give [certificates for] pedicures, manicures, full-day massages. We show up in the pink fire truck and give them a blanket; if we know they’re needing a meal, we take that. We usually give them flowers to pep them up a little bit and brighten their day.”
McEntire said cancer patients are helped throughout the year.
“It’s one of those things; we’re trying to get the word out. With the privacy law, we don’t go out and search for them,” he said. Referrals are taken, however.
He said his favorite part of the Hearts on Fire event is the survivors’ parade, in which firefighters each walk with a cancer survivor. McEntire walked with his wife.
“I said the other day, I’ve grown up through this fire service. Through my 18 years of service, we have the brotherhood where we bond, but where I’ve witnessed the bonding of survivors has been great,” he said.
“They talk about the firemen and our courage and bravery. I don’t even know if it compares to what [people with cancer are] going through,” McEntire said. “I’ve met several, and it’s amazing. They say, ‘You can’t beat me; you can’t defeat me.’ They say firemen don’t know if they’re coming home when they leave the house. Well, [the cancer patients] know if they don’t fight every day, they’re not going to make it.”
In addition, McEntire helped start the Fill the Boot campaign in 1998, which has helped thousands of needy children at Christmas.
The Conway Rotary Club also presented Deputy Howard Hall of the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office with an award, and a posthumous award was presented to Officer Will McGary of the Conway Police Department. His family accepted the award on his behalf.
Chief Deputy Matt Rice of the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office said Hall was one of two deputies, along with Adam Cox, who assisted Deputy Hans Fifer, 32, who died in April after collapsing during a SWAT team training session.
“They did mouth-to-mouth, chest compressions … to try to save his life,” Rice said. “It was one of their friends, one of their brothers in blue that went down, … and they stepped up to do what they needed to do to try to save his life.
“Howard, he’s just a great guy,” Rice said. “He’s there to help anybody who needs help; he has a servant’s heart. We’re glad to have him in the sheriff’s department. You can always count on Howard for whatever.”
He said Howard has been with the Sheriff’s Office about three years.
McGary died in February, a day after he was struck by a vehicle while directing traffic at the scene of an accident in Conway.
Rotary Club President Roger Lewis said police, fire and sheriff’s departments nominate their employees for the awards.
“We just think it’s important to recognize those people because those members of those departments are so important to the community,” Lewis said. “We just appreciate them.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.