Dan Hettman Named Larch CO of the Year
May 06, 2016
YACOLT – It takes quite a while to get to and from the Larch Corrections Center, located in a remote wooded area more than 20 miles from Vancouver. Dan Hettman’s job is to get inmates where they need to go.
Hettman is the person who drives inmates to see doctors for medical appointments. When forest fires break out, he drives inmate firefighter crews to battle the blazes. And if one of them walks away in the field in an attempt to escape, he works with law enforcement to bring them back.
Hettman has held the post for past 12 years at Larch. He was recently named Corrections Officer of the Year for the facility and was recognized at the Washington State Department of Corrections, (DOC) annual Agency Awards ceremony May 3.
He says the most challenging part of his job is “not knowing what you’re going to be doing the next day. Sometimes there’s surprises and you have to adapt and overcome.”
Hettman, 52, has learned to adapt to unpredictable situations his whole career. Prior to becoming a DOC correctional officer in 1998, he served 10 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, performing search and rescue and law enforcement tasks along the Washington and Oregon Coasts. He says his years of upholding public safety in the armed forces made his transition to correctional work an easy one.
“In both jobs, you have to hit the ground running and try to make the right decisions at the right time.”
Transporting inmates can be a stressful task, which involves searching the inmates and the transport car before and after to ensure no contraband has been smuggled in. Over the years he’s learned ways to interact with inmates to make sure they remain calm and safe.
“If you treat people like they are people, they’ll act like people,” Hettman said. “Once you start barking at them, that’s when they’ll buck.”
Barbara Olson, a corrections and custody officer who has worked closely with Hettman, says in addition to making inmates feel comfortable, he also builds a good rapport with his co-workers.
“He’s able to mentor new staff, and he’s friendly and has a sense of humor,” Olson said. “He sees what needs to be done and does it.”
Hettman says though each day is different, the most satisfying part of his job is keeping inmates and staff out of harm’s way.
“I feel like I’m an integral part of the operation of how things go smoothly,” Hettman said. “If I go home at the end of the day and everyone is safe and I think I made the place better for being here today, that makes me feel good.”