Photos by Mike Maloney/London Community News
Becoming fire chief requires countless hours of training, years of on- the-job experience and working your way up the proverbial fire ladder — that is unless you're Owen McGonigal.
On Thursday afternoon (Oct. 28), the affable eight-year-old with determination in his eyes, was bestowed the title of London’s Honourary Fire Chief in a ceremony held at the department’s Horton Street headquarters.
The young McGonigal originally became involved in the firefighting community when he was just two years old and living in Strathcona County, Alberta. Owen and his mom, Angela, had been asked by the muscular dystrophy association to speak to a new recruit class at a local station in the Edmonton area.
“You know its funny,” Angela said, “it was such a simple act but it was just an instant connection.”
While sharing their story with the firefighters, “a bond was formed and it just spread from there.” Over time, the dedication of Owen and his family to find a cure for the disease inspired the Strathcona County fire department to adopt him as an honourary fire fighter.
In 2008, the McGonigal family moved from Alberta to be closer with family in Ontario, choosing London for medical reason.
At the request of the Strathcona County Professional Firefighters Association, the London Professional Fire Fighters Association (LPFFA) was asked to welcome Owen and his family, and did so with open arms.
Just like his initial visit at the hall back in Alberta, the friendship here was instantaneous after his first visit to London’s Station #7 on Highbury Avenue. From that developed a relationship with not just the local fire department and its members, but also a strong partnership with Muscular Dystrophy Canada (MDC) in London, Middlesex and the surrounding area.
Arising out of that affiliation, Owen and his family recently were recognized by MDC, which presented them the Courage to Inspire award for their continued efforts to raise both awareness and money for those affected by the disease.
Speaking at the announcement, Mayor Joe Fontana spoke glowingly about Owen, citing him as an example of the kind of commitment and dedication to a worthy cause toward that everyone should strive to achieve. Fontana then presenting him with a framed plaque naming him as honourary chief before joining with London Fire Chief John Kobarda in outfitting Owen with his own personalized set of bunker gear.
Angela agrees Owen has that something special that makes him unique.
“He has the right attitude and positive outlook on life, “ she said. “As parents, it is up to us to help fuel that and see where that takes him.”
For his part, the new chief was uncharacteristically a little lost for words. Asked what were some of the things he would like to do taking advantage on is new title, Owen wanted to think on that a bit because there were so many possibilities. Asked how it felt being named honourary chief, his response required less thought. “Well,” he said pausing for just a second, “it feels very, very, very awesome.”