John Polivchuk

by Kirsten from Edmonton

John Polivchuk
John Polivchuk

A hero. What makes someone a hero? Is it their superpowers- like being able to fly, run really fast, or have laser beams come from their eyes? Is it their popularity or appearance? Is it how they react when it comes down to the wire and they, or someone they care about, are in trouble? All of these questions would tell you what someone who is a hero could be like on the outside. But, what truly makes a hero is what they are like on the inside. What truly makes someone a hero is their personality. True heroes will be the light in the dark. If you think everything is hopeless, a hero will show you that there is hope. If you think something is impossible, a hero will prove to you that it is possible. A hero will always be there for you- no matter what. A hero will be your friend whether it’s cool or not cool. A hero will see you for who you are, and let you see them for who they are. Heroes are always true to themselves, and in doing so, they inspire others. Their determination, willpower, and bravery set them apart from the crowd, and let them leave their mark on the world.

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes; big and tall, short and small. All heroes are different. Some heroes we hear about every day, and others only once in awhile. But both are equally important. Here is a man. You may not have heard of him before, but he is a hero. His name is John Polivchuk.

 The Rescue by Danek Mozdzenski
The Rescue by Danek Mozdzenski

John Polivchuk was born on October 15 in the little town of Opal, Alberta. His father, Peter, was a farmer, who also worked on the railroad. His mother, Magdalena, worked at home. John was the youngest of six children.

When he was little, his family did not have a lot of money. But, this didn’t stop him from having fun. John was a very inventive and creative person. So, things like toy trucks that you and I would buy already made, he would make himself.

John was a very hardworking and determined person, who loved to learn. Every day he would walk five miles to school and then five miles home again, rain or shine. Most people today don’t even drive five miles to and from school. Imagine walking. But, when John got older, he got a bike that he rode to school.

John loved school, but he also loved sports. He liked playing all sports, and was good at playing all sports. But, he did have a favorite. Baseball. John would play baseball with his older brother and his friends. Even though they were bigger, older, and sometimes scarier, John didn’t let that stop him from playing. He was never afraid of a challenge or getting his hands dirty. John was also a good decision maker. When he was about six years old, he decided that the New York Yankees were his favorite baseball team. Wherever he went, whatever he watched, the New York Yankees were always his favorite team.

When John was about 19 years old, he moved to Edmonton. After working awhile in Edmonton, John went to university and learned how to be a teacher. But John realized that teaching wasn’t the right job for him, and that he needed more of a challenge.

One day, his best friend Bruno contacted him and asked him if he wanted to be a firefighter. John thought that it would be a good job because he could help people, and it would be a challenge. So, in 1953, John joined the Edmonton Fire Department (EFD) and became a firefighter.

John liked teddy bear sunflowers (
John liked teddy bear sunflowers (

John was a firefighter for 37 years. He started as a rookie, then worked his way up to lieutenant. After being a lieutenant for awhile, he became captain, and then District Chief. (A district is just a certain part of the city.) District Chief was the highest rank, next to chief.

He worked all over the city at many different stations. Some of the stations he worked at were: the #2, #5, #14, downtown, westside, and even southside.

As a firefigher worked his way up the ranks, there was more “telling” and less “doing.” John preferred going into the fires and helping to put them out, rather than telling others what to do, and just watching. He liked to be “hands-on,” and actually go into the fires with the people he worked with.

Being a firefighter was a very demanding job, both physically and mentally. John had to be very strong to be able to hold the heavy hoses with the gallons of water surging out, and to hop onto the back of a firetruck and hold on as it raced through the city. He had to be fast to be able to slide down the pole, and get to the fire as quick as possible. Last but not least, he had to be brave. Running into a dangerous fire isn’t an easy thing when your automatic instinct is to run out. Fires are very unpredictable. With one wind gust, the situation can go from being in control, to being totally out of control. Walking into a house or building that is on fire is like walking into a maze blindfolded. You never know exactly where or how to go. You also never know what you’ll find, once you’re inside. Yes, saving people and animals from burning buildings is very rewarding. But finding them and getting them out without hurting them more can be very hard. The hardest part of John’s job wasn’t lifting the heavy hoses and hanging on to firetrucks. It was seeing the people and animals after what the fire had done to them. It hurt him to see how burnt their skin was, and how much pain they were in. But he knew that by getting them out, they could be helped and happy again. Each time John went into a fire, he didn’t only save the person he pulled out, he saved their family and friends too.

In 1990, John retired as District Chief. But, just because he wasn’t a firefighter, didn’t mean that he stopped being a hero.

Whenever you went to see him, he would either be out in his garden, offering you something from his garden, or trying to give you a “skunk” in cribbage.

John was a “jack of all trades,” and a “man of many talents.” He was good at working with wood, fixing things, growing things, and much, much more. He built the house that he lived in for many years with his wife Stella and two children, and once he even rewired a car engine. John loved to read and could always tell you about current things in the news and new bizarre creatures from all around the world. He always talked about the Komodo (Karmodian) Dragon. He said it was "the filthiest animal on the planet." John also loved Knut, the polar bear. Every time someone mentioned his name, John would get a big smile on his face. He thought that it would be worth going to Berlin, just to see Knut.

John was a quick thinker, and always had a funny joke that would make you smile. He loved to sing and dance, so he was always the life of the party, and you always wanted him at your parties because he was lots of fun. But most of all, he was a selfless person, who would risk everything and always be there for you. He donated to many charities and causes. People have even said that if you needed a shirt, and the only shirt he had was the one on his back, he would give it to you. That was the kind of person he was.

About a year ago, John passed away from prostate cancer. You would have never known that he had it, because he was always smiling, and asking you how you were whenever you saw him. This experience showed us all how much of a hero he was, because he never gave up fighting or lost hope. He even gave people hope. John also didn't let it change him. He was always the same happy, funny, storytelling, and inspiring person, just like he was before. He was always a hero. He was always John.

Edmonton Firefighters Union (
Edmonton Firefighters Union (

John was a hero every day, whether he was firefighting or not. He didn't have laser beam eyes or heat vision, but he had what mattered most. A personality and smile that truly made the world a better place. He was, and will always be, a hero.

John was a firefighter, so his job was to fight fires and save people from them. To honor John, we can do really easy things like not playing with matches or lighters, and by taking fire safety seriously. So, the next time your school or work has a fire drill, don't laugh and think it's no big deal because it's fake. Take it seriously. When a real fire happens, it won't be funny.

I think that there is a hero in all of us, even though we may not realize it. Everyone deep down is a good person, and everyone is someone else's hero. Who's hero are you going to be?

Page created on 8/13/2014 3:28:40 PM

Last edited 1/6/2017 6:12:12 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

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