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All in a day's work

Students take advantage of fire district program

Conor Holmgren, 20, starts the paramedics program at Chemeketa Community College in March.

Photo by Emily Mentzer

Conor Holmgren, 20, starts the paramedics program at Chemeketa Community College in March.

January 07, 2014

INDEPENDENCE — Conor Holmgren has been living at Polk County Fire District No. 1's Central Station 90 on Monmouth Street for four months.

He is just finishing the prerequisites for Chemeketa Community College's paramedics program, and has been accepted. He starts in March.

Holmgren is one of nine college students participating in the district's Student Resident Program.

"As a resident volunteer, we live at the station," he said. "We're assigned shifts and work alongside shift personnel."

Holmgren, 20, always wanted to pursue a career in a medical field, but the idea of another 12 years of studying after high school was daunting.

"I wasn't the best student in high school," he said. Yet, his interest in medicine persisted.

"Also, I was a complete adrenaline junkie in high school," Holmgren added. "A high school teacher recommended I look into working in the trauma field."

After a stint working with emergency medical technicians and a year and a half as a resident with Philomath Fire and Rescue, he decided to expand his experience into the firefighting side of things.

"I love it," he said. "I'm very happy with the field I've chosen. Everything seems to be working for me."

While some of his high school friends continue to go to college, unsure of what they will do, Holmgren said he's proud of his choices.

"I started when I was 16 and I haven't looked back once," he said.

Holmgren said he has helped battle working structure fires. Helping families through tragedy is another reason he wants to pursue his career as a paramedic-firefighter.

"We don't really think twice about putting our lives in front of others," he said. "That's why a lot of us chose this field — helping people."

And while it's difficult to see some of the things he sees, he said the faces and thanks from those he helps makes it worth it.

"You get a thousand good moments to every bad one," he said.

Conor Holmgren, 20, starts the paramedics program at Chemeketa Community College in March.

Photo by Emily Mentzer

Conor Holmgren, 20, starts the paramedics program at Chemeketa Community College in March.

In exchange for work, students are provided with cramped living quarters. Their tuition and books also are paid for by the fire district, said Capt. Ben Stange.

Student residents work 48-hour shifts followed by 96 hours off, but are students first, Stange said. Not all the residents are studying to become paramedics or firefighters.

Samuel Post, a junior at Western Oregon University studying business marketing, applied for the resident program after finishing the recruit academy last summer.

"It's hard to articulate the feeling you get when you provide a public service," he said. "And you get to ride around in big trucks. It's kind of work and play at the same time."

Post spent last summer in Douglas County fighting wildfires with the Oregon Department of Forestry, and has plans to join the military after graduating from Western.

He said the resident program helps him be a better student.

"I'm definitely more disciplined," he said. "We mind our Ps and Qs. We make our beds."

The program benefits the district, too, Stange said.

"Right now, when we get calls, we can take an ambulance and fire engine, or two ambulances," he said.

On Friday afternoon, three paid personnel were on duty, Stange said. It takes four to run a fire engine. Without the student residents, the only vehicle the fire district would be able to respond with out of the Central Station would be an ambulance.

"They're students first, so we still have that problem when they're in school," Stange said.

Training is continuous, because each student resident comes to the program with different levels of skills and certifications, he added.

The program has been around for more than 40 years, said Division Chief Neal Olson. For each 48-hour shift, one day is spent doing EMT training and one is spent drilling.

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