Grass Valley firefighter shows dedication to service |

Grass Valley firefighter shows dedication to service

Dillon Coward
Elias Funez/

Grass Valley Firefighter Dillon Coward spent the better part of five years underwater, traveling to distant countries to carry out secret missions on board a massive U.S. Navy submarine. Coward was seventeen years old when he joined the Navy and had just graduated from Nevada Union High School.

The nuclear-powered submarine, which surfaced only a few times each year while Coward was on board, is one of the largest underwater vessels the U.S. Navy operates, housing 150 officers at a time. Coward made some lifelong connections on board, he said, and is currently planning a trip to Texas, where he will be attending his closest friend and fellow torpedoman’s wedding as the best man this fall.

But spending all those years on board was often a trying experience, Coward said.

“The first few weeks and the last few weeks were always the hardest,” he explained, “when you’re really thinking about being on land, and you’re missing it.”

He said the experience taught him to be disciplined, a skill he had been lacking throughout his teenage years.

When he returned home to Grass Valley at the age of 22, Coward decided to use his Veteran’s education benefits, called his “GI Bill,” to attend the fire academy at Sierra College, where he received an associate’s degree in fire science.

Shortly after completing the program, Coward joined the Grass Valley Fire Department, and is now in his third year of service as a firefighter. The skills he learned on board the U.S. Navy submarine, where he was one of the vessel’s designated fire safety officers, translated well into his duties at the fire department, he said.

But Coward’s dedication to service didn’t stop there. He is now using his GI Bill to attend paramedic school in Roseville. Upon completing the training, which takes over a year, Coward will become the second Grass Valley Firefighter certified as a paramedic.

Coward attends twice-weekly classes for his paramedic training, which occasionally overlap with his scheduled shifts at the fire department. Though he is still a full-time employee at the department, Fire Chief Mark Buttron allows him to take unpaid time off to attend class, and doesn’t require him to make up his missed shifts.

Coward uses funding from his GI Bill to pay for tuition, and to compensate for the work hours he misses at the fire department. Coward said he is grateful that the department allows him some flexibility with his schedule, calling it a “win-win” for both himself and the city.

“The background and training that paramedics have is second to none,” said Buttron.

Though all firefighters are certified Emergency Medical Technicians, paramedics have the ability to provide advanced life-support care to victims in the field, which includes advanced airway management, IV fluid therapy, and administration of a wide variety of critical care medications.

“That knowledge is indispensable,” Buttron said. “Having that background allows us to provide even better service.”

Buttron was excited when Coward first proposed the idea that he would go back to school for paramedic training.

“I was impressed by his willingness to do this, not only to better himself, but to better the department,” Buttron said. “And it’s a pretty unique idea to use his GI bill to do this.”

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Pera, email or call 530-477-4231.

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