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Humble Spirit award winner who fought Mournes inferno: ‘I don’t like attention. It’s the same job every other firefighter does’

 Humble Spirit award winner who fought Mournes inferno: 'I don't like attention.  It's the same job every other firefighter does'

There are countless heartwarming and life-affirming achievements of courage, generosity and kindness each year that have been recognized at our gala ceremony. But one word has been a constant as we revisited all of our worthy winners from last year: humility.

All of our 2022 champions were humbled but privileged to be celebrated at our special event and climate hero Hayley Agnew was proof of that.

She became the face that shed light on the heroics of dozens of brave firefighters who spent three days battling a raging bushfire in the Morne Mountains last year.

But like so many of our award winners, Kilkeel-based Hayley was a somewhat reluctant recipient, in that she just felt like she was doing her job.

Still, the 25-year-old said she “embraced the award because it’s good for the brigade and it’s good that we finally get that recognition for the hard work we do every year”.

She explained: “We don’t do it for the praise or the recognition, but it’s nice to get it once in a while. We sacrifice a lot.”

Last year’s award was presented to her by Sarah McKay of category sponsor Concentrix, comics legend Tommy Cannon and Coronation Street actor Michael Condron, who plays eco-warrior Griff Reynolds.

She said at the time: “I don’t like the attention. I don’t feel like I need it. It’s the same job every other firefighter does.”

Climate Hero winner Hayley Agnew with sponsor Danielle Rogers of Concentrix, Coronation Street’s eco-warrior Michael Condron and Tommy Cannon

But while she dismisses it as just a “job”, the reality is that the fire that devastated the slopes of the country’s highest mountain, Slieve Donard, was the biggest challenge of her career, as she only joined the Northern Territory in 2019. Ireland Fire and Rescue Service came. .

She said: “It was the biggest I’ve had to tackle. In most firefighter careers, that was probably the case. I think this was the first major incident to be announced in Northern Ireland, so it was a big deal, over 100 firefighters were there.

“Because it’s so remote, it’s taken most of us an hour and a half to get there, and by the time you get to the fire, you’re already busted.

“And then you have a few hours of work on top of that and a few hours back, that really costs you a lot. We took spades, or a beater as we call them, and we just beat it out.

“So you have to get up to within inches of the flames, it’s much riskier than other fires with a hose reel.

“That picture was towards the end of the day so I had been working on it all day and the sweat was pouring off me – you know the heat from the flames and it was a really hot day and you got the gear on and you’re carrying water and shovels and by the end of it you just want to roll down the hill, you don’t want to walk, you’re just broke at the end of it.

Q Radio presenters Pamela Ballantine and Ibe Sesay help launch the 2023 Spirit of NI Awards

Q Radio presenters Pamela Ballantine and Ibe Sesay help launch the 2023 Spirit of NI Awards

Renamed Environmental Hero this year, the award recognizes an individual or community group that has gone the extra mile to care for and protect the local environment for future generations, and Concentrix is ​​once again on board to support the category.

This year’s ceremony, hosted by UTV’s Pamela Ballantine and Q Radio host Ibe Sesay, will take place on June 30 at the Culloden Resort and Spa in Cultra.

The nominations deadline is April 30 and the process to nominate someone is simple. Simply email your nomination to spiritofniawards@sundaylife.co.uk with an explanation of why you think they deserve to be recognised.

You can also post nominations for the Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards, 33 Clarendon Road, Belfast BT1 3BG.

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