Andrew Knight is a Probationary Volunteer Fire Fighter at the Dundee Fire Department in Dundee, Oregon. He is also a junior mechanical engineering student at George Fox University.
HSLDA: Andrew, what was your childhood homeschool experience like? What’s your best experience from it?
Andrew Knight: In addition to our normal studies of arithmetic, English, history, and the like, my parents always encouraged my sister and me to study things that specifically interested us.
I think the best experience from homeschooling was my incredible relationship with my parents. I am extremely grateful to my mom and dad for choosing homeschooling and sticking with it all the way through high school. If we hadn’t homeschooled, I don’t think my relationship with them would be as close as it is.
HSLDA: Describe what you do in your job. How did homeschooling prepare you for what you’re doing now?
Andrew: As a Probationary Fire Fighter, my job is almost identical to the senior volunteer fire fighters and paid staff at the station. I learn skills such as how to use firefighting equipment, fire suppression, extrication equipment like the cutter and spreader, firehoses, search and rescue, and other hands-on skills. When school is out, I spend about 15 hours per week at the station going over equipment, memorizing the location of equipment on the vehicles, taking part in station duties such as cleaning, and of course responding to calls. If I’m not at the station, I keep a pager with me that alerts me to any calls the station receives.
During my time as a homeschooled student, I became interested in disaster response. Because of the flexibility and freedom that homeschooling allows, I was able to get certified by FEMA as a member of CERT (Community Emergency Response Team). Having this experience made the transition to a recruit volunteer firefighter much easier.
HSLDA: What inspired you to become a firefighter?
Andrew: My plan in high school was to go into the military. I was not able to due to the oddly specific health issue of sleepwalking. I decided to go to college and study engineering at the same school as my sister.
This past fall, a local fire department posted flyers around campus asking for student volunteers. Becoming a firefighter seemed like a great way to help the community I’ve become a part of over the past two years.
HSLDA: What is the most challenging thing you’ve had to deal with in your job as a public servant?
Andrew: Dozens of hours of training, and the physical toll of fire equipment. Full turnout gear with a Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) can weight up to 60 pounds. After pulling all of that stuff on, you have to do things like swing an axe, cut open a car roof, crawl on the ground from one end of a building to another, and so many other physically demanding activities. The training officers are always reminding us to “train like your life depends on it, because it does.”
HSLDA: What is your best experience so far?
Andrew: As a Volunteer Fire Fighter, I get the chance to make a real and immediate difference in the lives of people who are having possibly the worst day of their life. Every week I respond to calls ranging from motor vehicle accidents to elders needing assistance to possible residential and commercial structure fires. There is a deep satisfaction in getting the opportunity to help people in this way.
HSLDA: Tell us about how other homeschoolers can reach their own communities through public service.
Andrew: There are many service opportunities in communities around the U.S. You just have to be willing to ask around.
There is a nationwide shortage of firefighters. Fire departments with volunteer staff are always looking for highly motivated recruits to join. Homeschooled students are, dare I say, legendary for their responsibility and willingness to learn.
HSLDA: How does your homeschooling experience inform your work?
Andrew: Homeschooling taught me to always ask questions. Both of my parents were always eager to answer any questions I had as a kid. My father especially was often subjected to hours of questioning that covered topics from science to sociology. Learning to ask questions is critical to staying safe when working at the scene of an emergency. Is there traffic nearby? What kind of surface are we working on? Is the air safe to breath?
HSLDA: How could homeschooling families improve their participation in public service?
Andrew: I feel like homeschoolers are a very unique and special group of people who tend to really care about their families, friends, and communities. But I also fear that homeschooling parents tend to shy away from, or at least discourage, letting their kids get involved early on. Children need to be proactive about looking for ways to serve, and parents need to be open to the possibly that their child might want to serve in a way that is not entirely safe (such as firefighting).
I am incredibly thankful to my parents for always encouraging me to find ways of helping people. I am also thankful for their continued support, as well as the support of my sister, as I begin this volunteer firefighter adventure.
Many thanks to Andrew for sharing his story! This interview is part of our Homeschool Helpers series, which highlights homeschool graduates and parents across the nation serving their communities as public servants. If you’d like to read more inspiring stories, click here.
Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Mark Thoburn, HSLDA; photos courtesy of Andrew Knight.