TVF&R recruits begin firefighting career with special delivery for young patients at Doernbecher Children's Hospital

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Thirteen Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue firefighter recruits deliver a collection of toys Friday to Oregon Health and Science University's Doernbecher Children's Hospital.Thirteen firefighter recruits heave oversized boxes and stuffed bags into the Oregon Health and Science University aerial tram.

“Now we’ll see if they’re afraid of heights,” joked Piseth Pich, a public affairs officer with Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue.

It’s not exactly their final test before joining the ranks of the fire district, but it is their last day as recruits.

The graduating cadets from TVF&R’s Recruit Firefighter Academy last Friday donated toys to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital as their gift to the community. Traditionally, a graduating class will buy signs and plaques for the academy, but these recruits wanted to give something special to the TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue recruits Cody Nichols and Maya Gross came up with the idea to raise money for gifts to donate to OHSU's Child Life Program.

“We were batting ideas around and decided we all wanted to help kids,” said Cody Nichols, a graduating recruit. He and classmate Maya Gross came up with the idea to donate items to Doernbecher, which earned the support of every recruit in the class.

“We all had personal and work ties to children,” said Gross. “We wanted to give back to them — they’re the future of our community.”

Nichols researched possibilities and learned Doernbecher had an online wish list of needed toys. The recruits dipped into their own pocketbooks and fundraised to purchase gifts for the children.

“We see the patients (firefighters) bring this way,” said Sandra Westfall to the recruits. She serves as the child life program manager at Doernbecher and has worked in the children’s hospital for more than 20 years.

Westfall gave the recruits a tour of the hospital and playrooms, so they could gain an understanding of what life is like in the facility for the children undergoing treatment for a variety of illnesses. “You’re our community helpers,” said Westfall. “It makes a big difference knowing who you’re helping.”

Doernbecher stocks up on toys donated in December and stores them to distribute to patients throughout the year. Doernbecher has no budget for toys, so holiday donations make up the bulk of the hospital’s supply for Bingo prizes, playroom supplements and gifts for patients.

“Play is important for kids — they get here urgently, with no clothes and no toys,” said Westfall. “We build trust with toy giving.”

For some children and teens, it’s their last stop before going into foster care. Westfall puts together packets of toys to ease their transition into new homes.

Some kids confined to their rooms are given activities and art supplies. Bingo is broadcast live from the playroom once a week, so everyone can play.

Siblings of patients hospitalized for extended care are given toys, too. It helps the families de-stress, according to Westfall. She personally selects items for each child.

“We can always figure out who’s going to enjoy what,” said Westfall. “We’re very mindful of how it helps the development of the children.”

For example, suicidal teen patients can’t be given anything sharp, including pencils, so Westfall has to find them something safe.

The hardest group of kids to supply toys for is adolescents, according to Westfall, because they’re interested in electronics. She finds iPads equipped with a firewall for them, so they can play games and go online without getting into trouble.

On birthdays, she gives teens gift cards to encourage autonomy.

Nichols believes last week’s donation will inspire future recruits to carry on a new tradition. “Firefighters are really good at one-upping each other,” Nichols said.

The recruits, now firefighters having completed their 16-week training program, will spend eight months rotating among fire stations as part of the crew.

“We’re trying to do something different ... to give back to the community, to work toward a common goal,” said Gross. “All of us have a heart to serve.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Thirteen Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue firefighter recruits load up a collection of toys to deliver Friday to Oregon Health and Science University's Doernbecher Children's Hospital.

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