Fighting Fire, Opening Up Vet Jobs

February 07, 2013 |

Forest Grove Fire Department

Forest Grove is a small town in Oregon, but it might have a large role to play for getting veterans jobs in the state and around the nation. According to the News-Times, Forest Grove Fire & Rescue is the first fire department in the state that has had its student-volunteer program approved as an official On-The-Job (OTJ) training program, which means the VA can now pay veterans serving as student-volunteer firefighters (formerly “interns”) in the same way it pays apprentices in other fields.

A firefighting career has been a logical landing spot for former servicemembers, as the profession requires teamwork, camaraderie, and being able to keep your head in dangerous and even life-threatening situations. The Forest Grove program may open the doors for other firefighting programs to join OTJ.

Such approval is “extremely uncommon across the nation,” said Kate Nicholson, education liaison with the VA. “I only know of one other state that has this type of OTJ program for firefighters.”

“A majority of veterans who come back from active duty have ‘combat’ as their skill set,” said John Kersey, who handled the OTJ approval at Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries.

“How does that translate into the workforce? Well, it doesn’t,” Kersey said — except in fields like law enforcement, firefighting/paramedics or private security.

Firefighting is a great post-military career, according to FGF&R Fire Marshal Dave Nemeyer. With their hierarchies of lieutenants, captains and such, fire departments are already somewhat paramilitary, he said.

In addition, “Fire service is sort of changing,” Nemeyer said. “It used to be 20-year-olds straight out of community college applying to be firefighters, but now we’re looking at guys and girls who have a lot of life experience.”

For more veteran job listings, feel free to check out the Veteran Jobs Center. And if you happen to be looking at a firefighting career, you might want to present this article to your local fire department and see if they can work out an arrangement similar to Forest Grove’s.

About Ho Lin

Ho Lin is an editor at His interests include naval history, the New York football Giants, and loud rock music.


  1. Lee says:

    In the Naval service, on shipboard, firefighting is EVERYONES secondary MOS.

    • Richard Bennett says:

      I retired from active and reserve duty in 2005. I had various shipboard assignments and never served a on a fire party. 23 years as a systems tech for the missile system and never a day with a OBA or a fire hose. I went to damage control schools by choice but never practiced aboard ship. It may have been my loss but not EVERYONE trains to fight fires.

      It goes without saying that I would have done whatever it took, given the need.

    • Maria E. Gongora says:

      It is good veterans are being hired. I am a volunteer at our local fire dept in Kent Washington. I volunteer as a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) member. FEMA is responsible for the training. I have been there since 2005.

  2. Bart Bowdish says:

    As a Former Fire Marshal and Senior Damage Controlman, I find it hard to believe the comments Richard has made unless he was on a Big Deck. Although the majority of Navy Firefighters are from Engineering Dept, It is trained to all in Basic Training and if you spend any amount of time in the Navy on Combatants, the chances are great that you have a working knowledge in Shipboard Firefighting.

    • Rexford L says:

      Exactly.. 20 years (and 6 days here) and you were either on the Fire Party or Security Forces (I was on the fire party on my 1st ship, the USS Essex LHD-2) and Chief of the Guard on my 2nd Ship, the USS Momsen DDG 92. My third ship went where I was needed but usually was part of the security forces.

  3. SSG Sean M. says:

    At Ft Lewis, we were deployed out often to assist in fighting fires in the northwest…I was glad to do it too. I'm a bit older and now that I've retired I think this program is good for younger servicemembers that recently left the service to take advantage of.

  4. Roger Wilder says:

    If you haven't been on Damage Control team on serious end of nozzle, you weren't in My Navy. I spent 21 years as snipe in engineering.

  5. Matthew Kidd says:

    I am an unemployed 12 year navy veteran in TN when will this be here?

  6. pahess says:

    I have just graduted with my masters in aviation management (Human Factors) and I cannot get a job and the url link you have provided does not allow one to go to the web site. Is the link broken? I am currently in California and there seems to be a freeze on jobs here.