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Resident program makes positive impact in Government Camp posted on 11/01/2020

Dawson Kooch, Brandon Bergeron, Matt Garcia and Lucas Staples have been thrown into the fire – figuratively speaking – in their early days with the Hoodland Fire District’s (HFD) resident program in Government Camp. The four live in the recently renovated fire station while serving as the first responders around Government Camp, meaning they may have to wait 20 minutes before other responders arrive on the scene.

“Having that station staffed has been wonderful,” HFD interim chief Steven Abel said. “They’re absolutely energetic. I’m glad we have competent people up there.”

For example, Abel noted, Dawson responded to a motorcycle accident in September and was able to get a helicopter from the Life Flight Network on its way to help before any other responders arrived.

“A lot can happen in 20 minutes,” said Kooch, a 20-year-old who grew up in Damascus and has been at the station for three months. “It’s a lot to take in. A lot of big decisions need to be made.”

There was also the cardiac arrest patient up at Timberline, the head-on collision on Hwy. 26 involving a semi-truck and multiple other vehicles at 4 a.m. and the RV fire.

“That was a new experience for me,” said Bergeron, also 20, who grew up in Sandy and has been at the station for two months. “Rolling up on that was like, ‘Whoa. This (RV) is ripping.’”

The group lives at the station, performing normal chores, training and maintaining a professional atmosphere, while also looking to build a career in the fire service. Garcia is a paramedic intern, Kooch and Staples take an Emergency Medical Technician course through Mount Hood Community College, while Bergeron works a part-time job at the Mt. Hood Athletic Club in Sandy.

“Days that just one of us are here, those are the most exciting days,” Kooch said.

Staples is the newest addition, starting at the station in early October. The 21-year-old Sandy High School graduate noted he had met Kooch while at the district’s academy and had met Bergeron at the gym, has found the early experiences of living and working together to be enjoyable.

“It’s honestly been great,” Staples said.

“It’s like a scene out of ‘Step Brothers,’” he added, referring to the movie starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly.

The residential program, which survived after a similar student program got cut due to monetary reasons, may make another positive impact on the community with an updated Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating, which insurance companies use to help set insurance rates. Abel noted a survey was recently completed and a new rating is expected.

“I am concerned about ISO ratings, but even more important is the service (residents of Government Camp) are getting now,” Abel said, adding that he hopes the higher visibility may attract more local people to participate in the district.

And the public is starting to take notice. Kooch noted in his first couple weeks, nobody said anything, but in September somebody stopped by with some energy drinks for them. And later in the month, the responders went out on a nighttime call and a resident serenaded them with a chant of “Hoodland Fire.”

“It was kind of cool,” Bergeron said. “It was nice to feel supportive.”

Kooch, who met Bergeron for the first time earlier this year, noted that living at the station means that there’s the possibility of a tone at any time, signifying the need to respond to a call, keeping them on their toes.

“At any point, you never know when someone’s going to need help,” he said. “It helps the day go by quicker, that’s for sure.”

By Garth Guibord/MT

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