Michael McCormic, Jr.
VANCOUVER — On an overcast May afternoon, Nathan Holmgren stands before his peers, his brothers, and his instructors. Cascadia Technical Academy Director Dr. Mark Mansell reads a list of Holmgren’s accomplishments as he prepares to present the outstanding Fire Cadet with a prestigious award that has, until now, never been given to a Clark County Fire District 6 fire program student.
His peers and his teachers alike frequently use one word to describe Holmgren: humble. According to David Schmitke, the public information officer of Fire District 6, this straight-A student would rather stay quiet and let his work do the talking.
The Fire Cadet Distinguished Graduate Award has been in existence for a few years, but up until now, the staff at Fire District 6’s cadet program had not recognized any students who fit the criteria.
The site coordinator for the District 6 cadet program, Scott Johns, explains, “We’ve never had the opportunity to have a student who met the qualifications for this award, which to me was really important that we actually found a student that met the qualifications.”
Johns goes on to explain how Holmgren not only fit, but exceeded the requirements to receive the prestigious honor.
“His grades were huge. He had the highest grade point in the classroom, and it’s been that way throughout his entire tenure with us,” Johns says. “Attendance is huge. The other thing has to do with, for him to get hired, physical agility. You have to be able to pass physical agility tests and you have to get a good score on it. His physical agility times were amazing.”
The award is given by way of vote, both by the staff and by the students. According to Johns, the student vote was overwhelmingly in favor of bestowing the honor upon Holmgren, and the staff decision was completely unanimous.
“That’s pretty much a hands down to me that we made the right pick,” says Johns.
While the caliber of this award may not yet resonate completely with Holmgren, he accepted it quietly and with great humility.
“It was an honor to get chosen, because all of my peers voted to have me receive it. It was cool to have them believe in me.” says Holmgren, who joined the fire cadet program through Cascadia Technical Academy two years ago.
Since joining the program, Holmgren claims that his cadet class has become like family, even going on weekend hikes together in their free time. With a small class size, the cadets found it difficult to not become a close-knit group. It is a dynamic that makes receiving this award even more special for Holmgren.
“We spend quite a bit of time outside class together, we’re really comfortable with each other, we trust each other. That’s what makes this class so much fun, is just being able to be with your brothers out there and enjoy it with them,” Holmgren says.
On May 12, the cadets were at MERTS, a year-end fire-training convention. To their surprise, the director of Cascadia Tech Academy, Dr. Mark Mansell, attended the closing ceremony and took the floor at the end to present Holmgren with his Distinguished Graduate Award.
While the award is typically presented at the Cascadia Tech award ceremony, Captain Johns explains the scheduling conflict that led to Dr. Mansell’s attendance at the MERTS camp.
“They had their award ceremony set for Thursday and we knew we couldn’t attend it because we were going to be down there,’’ Johns said. “I made contact with Cascadia Tech and said ‘We aren’t going to be able to do that. Is there another option?’ They said, ‘We will get somebody down there for your award ceremony.” And they actually sent the director of the skill center.’’
Dr. Mansell recognizes the prestige of this award, stating, “It’s the equivalent of being selected the Valedictorian of a graduating senior class.”
For Holmgren, the award isn’t just a present honor, it is a future potential.
“He doesn’t quite maybe understand it yet, but later on, he’ll be able to put that on his resume that he got this, and it might make the difference between him getting a job and not getting one,” explains Captain Johns.
In terms of the future, Holmgren doesn’t have his plans set in stone, but he does know he wants to go into the fire service.
“I got hired in Astoria, Oregon as a firefighter intern,” Holmgren explains. “They’ll pay for my associates degree in fire science.”
Beyond the college years, he hopes to end up back in his home city of Vancouver, possibly working full time for Fire District 6. Regardless of where he ends up, Nathan Holmgren has proven to his peers, his teachers, and to himself that he will be a valuable asset to any fire district that finds itself fortunate enough to have him on their team.