ELLSWORTH, Maine — A coalition that includes Maine Maritime Academy and the Ellsworth Fire Department is seeking federal funding to create a marine emergency training facility in the city.
The group has applied for an $850,000 Port Security grant through the Department of Homeland Security to begin work on designing the facility which is planned for city-owned property in Hancock adjacent to the city’s existing training center.
If built, the marine emergency training facility would be one of a few such training centers in the country and the only one in the U.S. Coast Guard’s Sector Northern New England which extends from Newburyport, Mass., to Eastport and to the western shore of Lake Champlain, according to Capt. Vassilios Pamboukas of Portsmouth, N.H., a board member of Maine Emergency Training.
“We plan to make this available to a variety of agencies, emergency response, environmental services, emergency management as well as maritime,” Pamboukas said recently. “We will cover all areas of emergency training.”
MMA provides firefighter training for its students at Ellsworth’s training facility. The college also offers continuing education courses for professional mariners to update their firefighting certification. Although the city’s facility has been adapted to include some maritime features, the planned training center would replicate dif-ferent areas of a ship that would allow them to provide specific training in fighting shipboard fires.
“Marine firefighting is considerably different than fighting a structure fire on land,” according to John Barlow, MMA’s vice president for academic affairs and academic dean. “You’re dealing with a floating ship; heat and ventilation are much more difficult. The fire is in a steel box, and you have to control the amount of water you pour on it. On a ship, you attack a fire from above. That’s just the opposite of what you have to do on land.”
Ships also have special features such as watertight doors, ladders instead of stairs, and a lot of confined spaces.
Although firefighting will be a key component of the proposed training facility, Pamboukas said, the training also would focus on a variety of emergencies, including dealing with hazardous materials, chemical emergencies, helicopter crashes and even IED — improvised explosive device — explosions.
The facility will be designed to replicate that variety of emergency situations and to provide the kind of training needed for mariners to respond to them. The fire simulations will be fueled by propane, which is easier to control and creates less pollution, Barlow said. It also will be computer-controlled.
“If anything goes wrong, it can be shut down immediately,” he said.
According to Ellsworth Fire Chief Jon Marshall, who has been involved in the planning phase of the project, the proposed facility also will offer training opportunities for land-based firefighters.
Marshall pointed out that a number of local towns have ports that receive regular visits from oil tankers and cruise ships, including Bangor, Bar Harbor, Bucksport and Searsport.
“This facility will be able to provide training for anybody who might have to deal with ship level emergencies,” he said. “That doesn’t just mean cruise ships or tankers. It’s anybody with a working waterfront.”
The proposed facility also can be adapted for training for other land-based firefighters, Marshall said.
The existing training facility is used by fire departments from around Hancock County. It is self-supporting by leasing it to MMA. The Ellsworth Fire Department also provides firefighting apparatus and a qualified operator during its classes. That income provides funds for additional training for Ellsworth firefighters, he said.
Although the proposed facility likely would be operated by a new, nonprofit organization that has not yet been formed, Ellsworth will continue to provide the support for the training classes.
Marshall said the City Council is aware of the project, but he intends to make a formal presentation to councilors, probably this month.
While not part of the grant application, Marshall said, the new facility could have an economic benefit for the city as well. Mariners coming to Ellsworth for training likely will stay in local hotels and eat at local restaurants.
The project is still in the very early stages. The decision on the grant application will not come until this summer. If approved, the partners also will have to apply for local permits before any work could begin.