AUGUSTA – Logan Farr, senior at Monmouth Academy, wants to be a firefighter.
Her desired occupation comes as some fire departments in Maine struggle to find firefighters to join their ranks and the average age of volunteers continues to climb.
A new program slated to begin this school year at the Capital Region’s Regional Technical Center in Augusta aims to help students like Farr learn the ropes of firefighting. In turn, this will help Maine fire departments gain new members even as the number of people becoming firefighters continues to decline nationwide.
Although the program does not yet have a teacher, the Capital Area Technical Center, after a few years of advocacy by Augusta Fire Chief Roger Audette and others on the need for firefighter training, plans to launch a one-year program – Firefighting I and Firefighting II – this year.
Audette said students who complete the program will be able to fight fires and could serve in volunteer services across the state. They could also, with additional training to become paramedics, be hired by Augusta or another full-time fire department and start a career helping people survive and escape emergencies.
Farr joined the Monmouth Fire Department’s junior firefighter program after hearing about it from his family’s plumber, and as he needed to get the community service hours required by his school, he checked out. He loved her so much now that he wants to be a firefighter as a career.
“I really like the sense of camaraderie, it’s a nice environment,” he said of the fire station. “And I like to help people.”
But junior firefighters who do not have the training to enter a burning building cannot fight fires.
To get the required firefighting training he had to be able to fight fires, without the new program Farr’s only option would have been to train at night. It would mean missing out on extracurricular activities with friends, like playing sports, and also made it difficult for work at the same time.
âIt’s three to four hours a day, five days a week, for the entire school year,â Farr said of the planned new CATC program. âIt makes my job a lot easier. I would miss a lot of things (if the practice was after school and in the evening).
Audette said there are already five or six firefighter programs in Maine technical schools, including programs at the Foster Career and Technical Education Center in Farmington and the Mid-Maine Technical Center in Waterville. He said he had discussed with officials at the Augusta school about launching such a program for three or four years, but it has never come to fruition – until now.
While the Augusta service is currently fully staffed, the service has at times struggled to attract and retain firefighters. Volunteer services, many of which pay their firefighters for their time fighting fires, are also struggling to find enough firefighters.
In 1984, there were 898,000 volunteer firefighters in the United States, according to the National Volunteer Fire Council. In 2017, they were only 683,000.
Meanwhile, the total number of calls for help to the fire services in the United States is moving in the opposite direction, with 11.9 million calls in 1986 and 35.3 million calls in 2016.
Nick Gannon, the new director of the Capital Region Technical Center, said students from the eight high schools sending the Technical Center – Augusta’s Cony High School, Gardiner Area High School, Maranacook Community High School, Richmond High School, Monmouth Academy, Winthrop High School, Hall-Dale High School and Erskine Academy – who wish to take the program should contact their local school system officials to enroll. He said a few students are already enrolled because they heard the program was coming.
Gannon said CATC has tentative plans to also offer a second year program starting next year that would train students as emergency medical technicians.
âThese things together would make you employable in a full-time fire department,â he said.
Audette said they are trying to publicize the new program, including contacting other local fire departments in case they may know any young people interested in the program.
Farr said his goal was to complete the Firefighting I and II programs at the Capital Area Technical Center in his next year of senior high school, then attend community college to earn his associate degree in fire science. and become a full-time firefighter.
Brittany Corey, of Oakland, a full-time firefighter / paramedic for the Augusta Fire Department, went through a similar program about 10 years ago at the Waterville Technical Center.
She said the training included hands-on lessons to help her master firefighting, including how to use the air bags that firefighters lean on inside smoke-filled buildings.
âIt was really beneficial,â Corey said of the training program. “Many of us here have taken it.”
She said fighting fires is a good career, but one that requires a certain type of person.
Audette said students in the program will take their classroom lessons at CATC and be able to take hands-on training at the Augusta Fire Department’s Western Avenue station, which is currently unstaffed. He said the building is already heated anyway, as the equipment is stored there, so using the facility for training shouldn’t cost the city extra money.
He said the city will provide an old fire truck they can train with, and he is assembling firefighting supplies and equipment no longer used by active firefighters for students in the program. Students will be transported by bus from the CATC to the station for practical training.
Audette said he hopes the program will attract new firefighters while they are still young. He said he graduated from high school in 1983, but didn’t become a firefighter until he was 28. He said if he had been exposed to firefighting when he was younger, he likely would have become a firefighter by then.
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