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Online high school student Jack Starrett not only helped initiate Canby's program, but also seized his GED while still seeking his diploma to push his firefighting training along

When Canby teen Jack Starrett called Canby Fire to inquire about their explorer program, he was told they didn't have one. But rather than shy away, he responded, "Well, could you have one?"

Even though Canby Fire Battalion Chief Todd Gary had plenty on his plate, he entertained the idea and asked Starrett to gather some information about programs in the surrounding area.

"So that's what he did," Gary said. "Several months later, he comes back to me with a binder put together of all the other programs that are around, and said, 'These are the other programs.' I went, 'Okay, looks like we're going to start an explorer program.' "

The rest is history. Thanks to Starrett and Gary, the program started up a few months later and has been running for more than a year now.

HERALD PHOTO: KRISTEN WOHLERS - Canby Fire Battalion Chief Todd Gary (left) takes Jack Starrett (right) through drills.

Canby is partnered with Molalla, and Colton may join soon. The Explorer program is through Boy Scouts of America and is for sophomores in high school up to age 21.

Explorers participate in drills and work through most of the firefighter I qualifications, except for live fire, as they cannot be put into any immediately dangerous to life and health situations. According to Gary, the program allows explorers to get a sense for whether they want to pursue firefighting as a career. Some in the program have learned it's not the career they want, and Gary considers that a success.

"That's perfect," Gary said. "So these guys don't go to college and spend all this money and get out and then go out into the field and go, 'you know, this is not what I want to do…' that's a success. I look at that as a success for our program, not a failure that we lost somebody."

Now that the program is going strong, Gary is envisioning its future. The department also has a volunteer program and a student program through which students receive $1,000 per term for fire and emergency medical services education. Gary hopes to see people work their way through the programs and become Canby firefighters.

"What a great way to get people," Gary said. "You know this person…they know our system, they know everything about what we have going on."

HERALD PHOTO: KRISTEN WOHLERS - Gary and Starrett pause for a photo.

Starrett has been following that track with Canby Fire, but his plan took a twist a few months ago. Knowing that volunteer firefighters must be 18 years of age and have a high school diploma or equivalent, Starrett took matters into his own hands.

"So, I'll get my high school diploma in June; however, I'm extremely impatient by nature, and I didn't want to wait until June to start volunteering given that I turned 18 in October," Starrett said. "So, in December I was talking to a friend of mine. He's a very wise guy I guess you could say, and he said, 'Why don't you go get your GED?' And it was like a lightbulb moment. I thought, I could go get my GED and finish out high school and start volunteering, which was really exactly what I wanted to be doing."

"...you get to help people on their worst day, and even though it is their worst day, you get to make it a little bit better, which is something that's pretty cool in my eyes." -Jack Starrett

Now, Starrett is a volunteer and student at Canby Fire while he is finishing his senior year of high school and working through the fire program at Chemeketa Community College (he already completed the paramedic program). He also continues to participate in explorer drills. Starrett's flexibility comes in part through his attendance at an online public high school, Oregon Connections Academy.

Starrett, of course, hopes to become a firefighter in the future. His motivation?

"I like to help people," Starrett said. "I really, that's what I love to do. I volunteered at ranches, youth camps, things like that, and fire service really is just a natural progression…you get to help people on their worst day, and even though it is their worst day, you get to make it a little bit better, which is something that's pretty cool in my eyes."

For information about the explorer program, call Canby Fire at 503-266-5851.


Kristen Wohlers
Reporter
503-829-2301
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