Students at Dayton High School have many opportunities to grow and learn within the school. Finding these opportunities in the community has shown to be just as important of an experience.
In 2000, Dayton Fire Chief Brett Puttman launched a new volunteer program that would allow high school students, ages 16 to 18, to contribute to the fire department by training as cadet firefighters. Over time, it has helped both the volunteers and firefighters become more exceptional learners and individuals.
The volunteers start training in the Yamhill Academy in Yamhill, Oregon for two to three months. The academy’s cadet firefighting program is a free program that teaches volunteers how to uphold safety regulations, work as a team in high-stress environments, and better understand the road ahead of them with their fellow volunteers. Brett Puttman expressed that the addition of students in the program has helped both Dayton and the volunteers themselves. “They’ve helped with response times and have saved many lives” Brett Puttman said. To add to that, many of the student volunteers have grown into experienced firefighters following their experience in the program.
The professional, long-term firefighters at the station act as mentors to the students as they become young adults. Aside from learning how to be firefighters in a variety of different positions, students are empowered to lead their own paths, creating opportunities for themselves and their futures from clearer and more confident perspectives. The volunteers are able to open up their future, develop aspirations and begin working harder in other aspects of their lives. For example, students have to keep their grades up, working harder in school so they can stay in the program. Beyond that, their role and responsibility inspires and motivates them to be the best they can be. And by joining, they encourage other students to participate with them. Brett Putman said, “I don’t know where some of [the cadets] would be without this [program].” Working alongside respected professionals in the field has given students a hands-on window into the vast world of Protective Service Occupations. It shows them the value of building a career that they’re passionate about while learning what they are capable of in the process.
Carter Helgerson, a Dayton High School junior, began volunteering in November of 2019. He described his experience as life-changing. Originally, Carter joined because of his friend Kevin. He, along with Kevin’s family and Carter’s grandfather, were big inspirations for signing up. Seeing the impact they were able to make through their work drew him in. He said he was anxious at first, knowing that his role would come with heavy responsibilities and that he would have to adapt to a fast-paced team dynamic. But as he went through training and spent more time in the program, he felt more and more calm and relaxed. He said that he’s able to make real changes to himself and learn from the people around him.
His passion for the program has made him realize how precious life is. He risks his own life to save others and even though it can be scary, he takes great pride and honor in his work. Carter voiced that his volunteer experience has given him a new perspective on the people around him. “One big thing I’ve gained is respect for others. Whether they are a patient, pedestrian, family, or coworker; everyone plays a role in our day-to-day life and they all deserve hard-earned respect.” Likewise, he knows he can always rely on his team: the people he now regards as his family.
Dayton’s Firefighter volunteer program will continue to evolve and welcome new students. Carter believes that giving students the opportunity to become the next generation of firefighters has helped so many, by granting students a sense of honor and responsibility that is bigger than themselves. The volunteers experience much more than just what is written on the signup sheet, as they leave with a set of skills and pride that they can use to leverage their experience into a meaningful career.
Emily Carter is a Sophomore at Dayton High School. She has a passion for music and art, having drawn her whole life and played the flute for 3 years. She plans to go to OHSU after she graduates high school to study forensics and become a medical examiner.