ELLSWORTH, Maine — Firefighters from around Hancock County got hands-on training during a practice burn this weekend.
The training, which took place on Saturday and Sunday, included practice in specific firefighting skills and live-fire experience at two vacant donated houses on Water Street. The sessions were part of the 2010 Fire Academy sponsored by the Hancock County Firefighters Association, or HCFFA.
For the past six years, the association has run the Fire Academy, which generally goes from January through May. The academy provides the students — firefighters from departments around the county and beyond — with about 2,000 hours of training that prepares them for state certification as interior attack firefighters.
In its six years of operation, the academy has graduated about 150 people.
“We do this once a year,” said Lisa Winger, a Trenton firefighter and the chair of the HCFFA training and education committee. “The academy helps to give the students the skills and the knowledge they need.”
This year’s class includes 19 students from towns in Hancock County. At the training sessions over the weekend, an added 10 to 15 firefighters served as staff and support along with the five instructors. Trucks were provided by Bar Harbor, Mount Desert and Trenton.
“We’ve get a lot of support from the departments,” Winger said. “The county commissioners and the chiefs support us very well.”
The training involves classroom instruction and the hands-on experience. On Saturday, the firefighters practiced a number of skills on a small building on the property. Then, working in teams, they were put through their paces Sunday in a Class A burn in the larger donated building.
According to Winger, the students were divided into teams and then rotated through details such as attack, rescue and ladders. The instructors mix the students from different departments to give them experience in working with each other. That helps in real fire situations when departments go to other towns through mutual aid agreements, she said.
“Northeast Harbor had a big fire about two years ago, and all but about 10 towns had firefighters on the scene,” she said. “When we got there, they knew that we’d been put through the academy, and they knew they didn’t have to worry about the skills and the knowledge. And everything they gave us to do at that fire was something we learned at the academy.”
The training at the Fire Academy provides the students with a lot of practical knowledge, according to Franklin firefighter William Grindle, an academy graduate who was providing on-scene support Sunday.
“You really get to know how things operate, how things work,” Grindle said. “You get to realize that some of the things you might have done were not the thing to do. And you get to understand how to do it.”
Learning with other firefighters, he said, is another benefit of the program.
“Everybody knows that they all have the training,” he said. “You know that they know what to do.”
This year’s academy will continue through May, at which time the students will be prepared to sit for the state certification exam.