(This story was first published in the June 6, 2013 edition of the Vermont Standard.)
By Katy Savage
Josh Putnam has been a Bridgewater volunteer firefighter since he was 15 — one year shy of the legal age to be considered a junior firefighter. Still, the Bridgewater department made an exception.
As a junior firefighter, Putnam couldn’t go to car accidents or be on the scene of a structure fire. He wasn’t allowed on fire ground or inside burning buildings. Senior firefighters took on the extra responsibility of having Putnam on the fire department.
“He’s kind of a sidekick, we joke,” Fire Warden Ken Tarleton said. “Because he was so enthused we didn’t want to discourage him.”
Putnam is graduating Woodstock Union High School this June. He wants to be a full-time firefighter.
Putnam has attended nearly every fire meeting, every training and has gone to almost every fire call he could. He’s wanted to absorb every bit of information.
Tarleton said Putnam’s ability to remain level headed in difficult situations is what makes him so valuable.
“It’s something that comes natural to him and he enjoys,” Tarleton said.
His parents weren’t so sure about Putnam’s enthusiasm to fight fires at the beginning.
“At first I was really happy about it,” Bruce said. “When it came to the first call I was scared to death.”
Sometimes Bruce went to fire calls and sat on the side of the road, watching for his son’s safety.
When Tropical Storm Irene hit, Putnam’s parents didn’t see him for a week.
“We finally had to tell him, ‘You have to stop and get some rest,” his father, Bruce Putnam said. “He just wouldn’t stop.” Putnam worked 80 hours the week of Irene, evacuating people and directing traffic, day and night.
Putnam’s enthusiasm has inspired other young firefighters to volunteer in Bridgewater, Tarleton said. “It’s nice to have kids who get other kids involved,” Tarleton said. “It’s hard to get people. Not everyone wants to run into a burning building or stand on the road for five hours… In my mind he’s an asset to the local town.” While other students were out getting in trouble, Putnam remained committed to the fire department.
“He wants to do something for the town,” Mike Sawyer, a volunteer firemen said. “Everyone who’s on the department wants to do some good in their life.”
Putnam comes from a long family of Bridgewater residents where hunting is a family tradition. One of his favorite activities is rabbit hunting. He got his hunting license when he was nine and passed with one of the top grades.
Putnam wants to stay in Vermont after he graduates.
“It’s nice to see that someone from a small town is proud of where they grew up and proud of where they live,” one of his teachers, Roberta Roy said.
Although Putnam has never liked school, he will succeed elsewhere.
“I think when he figures out exactly what he wants to do he’s going to do it and do a good job,” Roy said. “He’s determined to have a good life. He knows he needs to work hard to succeed.”
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