Firefighter in the Making
November 1, 2023
By Ty Walker
Earlier this year, Natalie Hanson made a big decision. And that has made all the difference.
She had just graduated from Sandy High School and was already enrolled to go to Oregon State University this fall. Her plans for the future seemed set.
Then she began having doubts about whether college was for her. She came to realize there was nothing there that she really wanted to do.
“My dad found this program,” Hanson said. “It sounded interesting, like something I could do.” Now she is one of three students learning the ropes of becoming a career firefighter through Hoodland Fire District’s Student Program.
Hanson, 18, lives at the Government Camp Fire Station while she works regular A shifts based out of Hoodland’s main fire station in Welches. She works 48 hours on duty and 96 hours off, alongside full-time staff members.
“I’m surprised how much I enjoy it,’ Hanson said. “I really love being here. The people here are lovely to be around. I think I want to become a career firefighter now.”
She likes getting the opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives. She feels like she gets along with others at the station.
“I like being that person who can respond to someone’s emergency and be able to help,” she said. “To be useful and physically make a change, like save someone’s life or make them feel better or more comfortable.”
Hanson said the great majority of calls in Hoodland are for medical emergencies, but she has responded with teams to one house fire and 1 fully-engaged car fire in her first three or four months on the job.
Currently, Hanson said she is the only woman firefighter in the Hoodland district. There are two women working on the administration staff but they are not firefighters.
“I never thought I’d be surrounded by middle aged men all the time,” she said. “It’s kind of a shocker for me. I feel like I get along with everyone.”
She credits her mother, a family doctor, for helping her figure out she wanted to do something in medicine. Now she has that opportunity.
As part of the student program, the Hoodland Fire District also puts her through firefighting classes three full days a week at Portland Community College. Students earn their Firefighter I and Firefighter II certifications there, she said.
The oldest of three children, Hanson was born in Indiana before moving to Minnesota. She has lived in the Welches and Sandy area the past 13 years.
When she’s off duty, she likes to maintain an active lifestyle. You might find her lifting weights at the gym, hiking in the foothills, or skiing on The Mountain. (not to mention playing video games at home.)
At Sandy High School, Hanson was on the ski team for three years and the water polo team for a year.
Hanson seems to have made a good choice and found her niche in Hoodland. “I’m excited to be here,” she said.