September 5, 2008 Volume 109 Number 17

Fire Fighters union helps returning war veterans find jobs

A union firefighter has helped launch a program for returning military veterans that introduces them to possible careers in fire service.

Firefighter Erik Rosendahl, a member of Vancouver Fire Fighters Local 452 and a former Army Ranger, started the non-profit Boots to Boots last December with help from his union and the Vancouver Fire Department.

To date, 37 firefighters have volunteered to be one-on-one mentors. Fifty veterans are signed up for the program.

As mentors, the firefighters take returning veterans under their wings and help them readapt to civilian life. They take veterans on ride-alongs and help them prepare for written, oral and agility testing that is required to become a firefighter.

“Military veterans bring back with them skills they often don’t understand they have,” Rosendahl said. “Life experience is a real value.”

Rosendahl emphasized that not every veteran will be eligible to pursue a fire service career, and that there are no guarantees those who go through the program will be hired.

“It is a very competitive field to get into. That being said, there are lots of veterans in fire service,” he said. “This program gives them a leg up.”

Boots to Boots services are free of charge, and the day-to-day operations are done by volunteers operating solely on donations. [Fire Fighters Local 452 donated $1,000 to develop a T-shirt that is being sold to raise money. Tax deductible donations can be sent to: Boots to Boots, 13504 NE 84th Street, Ste. 103-307, Vancouver, WA 98682.]

Rosendahl met with colleagues from other veterans’ assistance programs last month in Portland to talk about his program and to learn about applying for grants that can help fund Boots to Boots.

The meeting was arranged by Glenn Shuck, executive director of Labor’s Community Services Agency. Among those attending were JD Baucom of the Oregon National Guard’s Career Transition Assistance Program, Rene “Gunny” Garcia of the Oregon Employment Department’s Disabled Veterans Outreach Program, Howard Klink of United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, Bill Reagan of the Painters and Allied Trades Apprenticeship Program, and Shalimar MacKinnon of Hire Oregon Vets.

In addition to learning how to apply for grants, the meeting allowed the various organizations to share information. Now, if fire service doesn’t work out, Boots to Boots can direct veterans to programs that offer other career paths, such as the construction trades.

Boots to Boots has the support of the City of Vancouver, and Mayor Royce Pollard is on its Board of Directors.

“We want to demonstrate that the fire service values the skills veterans have to offer,” Rosendahl said. “It’s a win-win situation. It’s a win for the military veteran because the fire service is an excellent parallel career. It is also a win for the fire service because of the veterans’ valuable life education and experience which is demonstrated by their leadership skills and calm approach to complex incidents.”

For more information about Boots to Boots, contact Rosendahl at 360-607-8324 or visit their Web site at

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