Westside thanks responders

Vale BLM firefighters Manuel Almaraz and Jesus Gonzalez and Payette volunteer firefighter Gina Page visit Westside Elementary on Nov. 20. First responders were given treats and thank you cards by students.

As Thanksgiving approaches, students at Westside Elementary School in Payette took the opportunity to give thanks to local first responders on Nov 20.

A total of 16 first responders, including police officers, full-time and volunteer firefighters, came to the school to share their experience in the field.

Principal Mary Beth Bennett said the initiative was part of Payette Primary and Westside’s focus for the month of November on the attribute of gratitude.

“We are thanking our first responders, because they’re essential in our community,” she said.

Bennett said the idea came from Westside fifth-grade teacher Shauna Bain.

“We said, ‘Oh gosh, let’s all do it,’” said Bennett. “We’ve had people contributing cookies and had multiple classes write thank you notes and letters to the first responders to present to them.”

Students were given the opportunity to ask several first responders about their experience, such as how quickly they have to suit up and emergencies that keep them away from home for extended periods of time.

Vale BLM Firefighter Manuel Almaraz spoke of his efforts to keep wildfires making it into neighborhoods:

“We redirect [the fire] and send it back into the forest,” noting at the same time that fires are important to renew a forest over time. “Fire is good, as long as it stays in the forest.”

Fellow Vale BLM Firefighter Jesus Gonzalez says he’s attended fires in Montana, Arizona and many places in-between.

“We don’t know where we are going until [we get] in our truck,” said Gonzalez. “You have to pack clothes for 14 days and you don’t get to come home every night and take a shower.” Instead, he told students, firefighters sleep at the scene, often along the fire lines.

Payette volunteer firefighter Gina Page told students about the size of the area she serves.

“We have a big area we have to respond to; We respond to house fires to small grass fires, if you have a medical emergency in your house then we respond there and we usually get there before the ambulance.”

By day, Page also works as an equipment operator at the Payette Landfill.

On behalf of the school, Bennett says to first responders: “We appreciate them and they’re a necessary part of our community and we are very grateful for them.”

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