By Lizzie Wilcox
Years ago, when John McKenna was just a little boy, firefighters saved his father’s life from a heart attack. From that moment on, he said, McKenna knew that he wanted to become a firefighter. In 1986, he did just that.
And 30 years later he’s been recognized with the 2016 Fire Service Community Achievement Award by the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York.
On Monday, McKenna, a volunteer firefighter at the Northport Fire Department since 1986, received the award, which is given to one volunteer firefighter in the state for their community service outside of the fire department.
McKenna has held many leadership positions in department, including Chief from 2010-2012 and fire marshal from 1992-2015.
Outside of the department, McKenna has long been an organizer of Northport’s annual St. Baldrick’s event.
The St. Baldrick’s Foundation, founded in Northport, is a worldwide charity that raises money toward finding a cure for childhood cancer by hosting events where volunteers shave their heads for the cause.
In 2002, McKenna asked his fellow firefighters to participate in the event at Napper Tandy’s pub in Northport.
McKenna said, “We ended up shaving 107 heads. It was a lot more than the firefighters.”
Since then, McKenna has helped to raise over $5.1 million for the charity in Northport. He served on the foundation’s board of directors from 2003-2011. He and seven other board members governed policies and procedures, and ensuring that funds raised were going toward pediatric cancer studies.
“I was blessed to have served with some amazing people on that board, and to have met some incredible scientists, families and children,” McKenna said.
Robert McConville, president of FASNY, has personally known McKenna for around 30 years and was with him when he helped to start the annual St. Baldrick’s event in Northport.
“It’s something that the average person wouldn’t do, but [McKenna] has stepped up to the plate,” McConville said.
Northport Fire Chief Bradford Wine described McKenna as a key person in the firehouse, someone who is always willing to lend a helping hand. Also, above all, McKenna is humble, Wine said.
“He doesn’t lead on to as much as he does for the organization, but he does a tremendous amount,” Wine added.
McKenna has also been recognized several times by the Northport Fire Department, and other local organizations for excellence in EMS, excellence in community service and lifesaving achievements.
“It’s very nice that the chiefs and the firefighters have nominated me for [the award], but I certainly don’t volunteer for any kind of recognition,” McKenna said.