They say that a uniform makes the man, but in the case of our Fire Chief, Mark Berney, the man makes the uniform. At six foot six he towers over most people, but his soft, friendly demeanor, immediately makes you warm up to his pleasant nature.
Born in Ajax, Ontario, Mark's father was a police officer, and his mother worked for the Ajax Pickering hospital. The family moved to Kirby, when Mark was young, but shortly thereafter, relocated to Newcastle.
Mark's mother became involved in local politics, and worked her way up to become president of their local riding. Mark was looking for a part time job, and when he heard the town had applied for a grant to clean up local cemeteries, he immediately applied and was given an opportunity. "It was great, working on a crew," Mark explained. “We had to clean up all the cemeteries and creeks in the area. It was certainly different, but a lot of fun."
Mark's true love was hockey and while growing up he became a rink operator, looking after the ice at the local arena. "We heard the Zamboni in Bowmanville blew a motor, and they found a tractor to pull the ice cleaning machine." Mark explained. "The fellow driving it, ran into a wall and was immediately let go. I found out about the problem, and because I could drive a tractor, they gave me the job.”
The oldest of three children, Mark had a pretty interesting childhood, and when it came time to find a job he applied with a company in Brantford, owned by his uncle. The company made valves for liquid and gas, used mostly in the Darlington Nuclear Plant. He later graduated to the position of computer programing operator.
In 1985 he saw a posting for volunteer firefighters. "My dad, being a police officer, has always given me a special place for first responders, and the thought of being a firefighter was very appealing," Mark replied.
The new position meant returning to his adopted hometown of Newcastle, and three years later he was hired as a fulltime firefighter, in the Clarington/Bowmanville area. There are a total of five stations in the municipality, each with about 25 volunteers and several fulltime employees.
Life for the firefighter was great, working 12 hour shifts, on and off and as the area grew, so did the needs of the community service. People were hired, trucks were purchased, and in 1994 Mark was promoted to Captain. This meant leading a crew and working out of Courtice.
It was during this time that Ontario Power Group started producing electricity, and the demand on the firefighting units suddenly increased dramatically. Clarington had six months to build a station, with no extension, as they had to be ready when Darlington Nuclear Generating Station went online.