Forest Grove student volunteer program to serve as statewide model for helping U.S. veterans
Feb 01, 2013 (The Oregonian - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Forest Grove Fire and Rescue is blazing a trail for U.S. military veterans like student volunteer Emmett Middaugh to collect GI Bill benefits for hands-on training.
Middaugh served eight years in the U.S. Army, including a 15-month tour in Iraq, before returning to the states to pursue a career in firefighting. He is balancing a full-time student schedule at Portland Community College with 24-hour firefighting shifts every three days. Middaugh has been volunteering in both Forest Grove and Cornelius for more than a year while finishing an associate's degree in fire protection and working toward a second degree as a paramedic.
It's a schedule that doesn't leave a lot of time for another job, and being a student volunteer doesn't pay much.
As of Monday, Jan. 28, veterans who serve as student volunteers with Forest Grove Fire and Rescue can collect education and training benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
It took about a year, but Lt. Tad Buckingham, volunteer coordinator with Forest Grove Fire and Rescue, is proud to see this program recognized at the state and federal level as an opportunity for returning service men and women.
Forest Grove's student volunteer program is a unique bridge for individuals pursuing a career in firefighting, according to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. It's a one-of-a-kind training option in the state because the participants are neither career firefighters nor typical volunteers; they are students who learn the duties of firefighting without being thrown into them.
Because the program is registered, veterans can apply for benefits such as a monthly housing allowance to keep financially afloat while they transition from the military to a civilian career.
"It's hard if you're coming back from service and you need to get back into civilian life," Buckingham said. "It takes some money to do that."
The Post 9/11 GI Bill provides financial support to veterans for a college education or for other career preparation programs, including on-the-job training, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
"So with one you're getting the scholastic side, the other you're getting the job training side," Buckingham said. "The unique thing about our program is you get both."
The student volunteer program's multi-disciplinary approach to fire service education sets it apart from other training, he said. Students gain knowledge for future careers as emergency medical technicians, structural firefighters or wildland firefighters.
The student volunteer program is nothing new for Forest Grove Fire and Rescue. However, the program's recent registration with Veterans Affairs is a huge step forward for the state, Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian said Friday.
There are not enough employment and training options for returning veterans, he said. Many of them are looking for jobs in civil service. The skills they already have from their time in the military make them ideal applicants for careers in law enforcement, fire protection or other jobs related to public safety and security.
"It's a great way to get these veterans exposed to a career that is probably already a great fit for them," Avakian said of the Forest Grove program.
He hopes to see it expand and serve as a model for other cities and counties around the state.
Middaugh is the first and, at this point, only veteran involved in the new program. But he, like Avakian, sees it taking off in the future. Forest Grove Fire and Rescue could serve as a template for a number of other departments, Middaugh said. And according to the Oregon Bureau of Labor of Industries, the program will indeed become a statewide example.
The most exciting part of the program for Middaugh is not the financial support or the ability to be a full-time college student while volunteering -- it is the program's potential to grow roots across the state and possibly country. He hopes to see new opportunities for veterans who may be struggling to find a career path that fits their skills and interests.
"It's a privilege to be part of this department," Middaugh said. "And it's a true honor to be able to help other veterans, both in my department and possibly around the nation."
___ (c)2013 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.) Visit The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)
at www.oregonian.com Distributed by MCT Information Services
[ Back To Technology News's Homepage ]