GUY RAZ, HOST:
It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Guy Raz and our first story today comes from a man named Mark Bezos. We caught up with him ...
MARK BEZOS: ... in Scarsdale, New York.
RAZ: Scarsdale. Isn't that where all the characters from Mad Men lived and then they would commute down to Manhattan?
BEZOS: That is correct. That is what many of us do here in Scarsdale, yes.
RAZ: You smoke cigarettes and sleep around?
BEZOS: (Laughing) I do not, but I am a fan of scotch.
RAZ: Oh I see, okay, got it.
RAZ: Which is where the comparisons with Don Draper end because Mark ...
BEZOS: ... I'm standing at the firehouse.
RAZ: He's a firefighter.
BEZOS: Watching Engine 56 go by, as a matter of fact.
RAZ: Actually a volunteer firefighter and we called him up to hear a story he told on the TED stage about his very first fire. So tell me the story.
BEZOS: It was in the middle of the night. It was probably 3:30 in the morning and ...
(SOUNDBITE OF PAGER BEEPING)
BEZOS: ... the pager went off and I leapt out of bed and just started spinning around in circles because I wasn't quite sure what the noise was. My wife let me know that it was, in fact, the fire pager going off.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO CALL)
RAZ: Okay so the way it works in Scarsdale, which is the way it works in a lot of smaller towns, is that professional firefighters are always on duty and they respond first. So if you're a volunteer, like Mark, you get a call or a text or a page at home. So Mark rushes to the fire scene.
BEZOS: So we arrive on the scene. You put on the gear.
RAZ: And there're flames jumping out of the second story of the house.
BEZOS: It happened to be terrible weather. Rain was coming down horizontally. It was just a really bad night.
RAZ: And Mark sees the homeowner, she was standing with the fire captain, barefoot in the rain, watching her house burn.
BEZOS: And she was pretty excited when she was talking to the captain, and come to find out that her dog was in the house. And she was very concerned about the dog.
RAZ: So Mark rushes to the captain for his orders, but there was one other volunteer on the scene who had arrived just a few minutes before Mark.
BEZOS: The captain called him over and asked him to go inside and get the homeowner's dog.
RAZ: And you were right behind him and what did you think?
BEZOS: To be honest, I was jealous. You know, you do an awful lot of training and you have these visions of, you know, the opportunity to go in and do something heroic. Save an animal, save a dog, save somebody who's in a burning building and so I thought this was my moment. I'm going to end up coming back home and my kids are going to look at me like I'm 10 feet tall and bulletproof.
RAZ: Now maybe you can see where this is all going. This is not what happened.
RAZ: What happened instead was the captain called Mark over.
BEZOS: And he asked me to go into the house to get the homeowner a pair of shoes, which was not exactly what I was hoping for.
RAZ: So Mark goes inside the house, he grabs the pair of shoes - they weren't in a particularly dangerous part of the house - and he brings them back outside to the homeowner.
BEZOS: I just handed them to her. I said, you might be more comfortable if you put these on or something like that. But, you know, she was very focused on the dog at that moment, so I don't know that our eyes ever met over the handoff of the shoes.
RAZ: And then Mark headed home feeling kind of disappointed.
BEZOS: I went from hero to zero at that point, at least... (Laughing)
RAZ: But a few weeks later the fire department received a letter in the mail.
BEZOS: The letter was, you know, it was very effusive, thanking everybody for, you know, all of the effort in saving her house and her property and obviously the dog. And then she noted that someone had even taken the time to go into the building and get her a pair of shoes, which had touched her greatly.
RAZ: What did you think when you read that?
BEZOS: It's one of those things that it's so easy to dismiss the opportunity to do something good because you're hoping to do something great. There are opportunities, dozens of times a day, to make a difference in somebody's life as small as, you know, returning a smile or offering the first smile. I mean, there's just so many opportunities. That's, I think, the big lesson for me.
RAZ: Here's how Mark ended his TED Talk.
(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)
BEZOS: So as I look around this room at people who either have achieved or are on their way to achieving remarkable levels of success I would offer this reminder, don't wait. Don't wait until you make your first million to make a difference in somebody's life. If you have something to give, give it now. Serve food to a soup kitchen. Clean up a neighborhood park, be a mentor. Not every day is going to offer us a chance to save somebody's life, but every day offers us an opportunity to affect one. So get in the game. Save the shoes. Thank you.
RAZ: Mark Bezos, he works for Robin Hood. It's an anti-poverty group in New York.