BANGOR, Maine — The city’s new fire chief plans to scale up his department’s efforts to educate community members, especially students and the elderly.
“I met with all the [Fire Department] crews the first week and I told them I didn’t have any hidden agenda and didn’t anticipate any sweeping changes,” Scott Lucas said Thursday afternoon during an interview in his office at the Main Street station. “What I did foresee was a more active role in public education, fire education and emergency education in general.”
Lucas, who assumed his new post on Dec. 3, has met with Bangor school Superintendent Betsy Webb to discuss the potential of a new program to bring firefighters to Bangor’s K-3 schools to read to and engage with students. That program could kick off in the spring of 2013, Lucas said.
The lessons wouldn’t be limited to fire prevention, but would be geared toward emergency prevention in general, which could cover anything from carbon monoxide to the importance of bike helmets, Lucas said.
The chief said the department is working on an application for a FEMA fire prevention and safety grant that would provide funding to put carbon monoxide detectors in every Bangor school.
He also plans to meet with owners of elderly housing complexes to discuss programs to provide regular, preventative care — such as blood pressure and glucose checks — and even fall prevention education to residents. Bangor’s fire department also provides Emergency Medical Services, so it should work to spread medical and health safety knowledge as well, the chief said.
“We want to be in the community — and not just on an emergency basis,” Lucas said.
Lucas, 45, a 21-year firefighter, and his family came to Bangor from Michigan. Lucas was assistant fire chief for the Westland Fire Department, which serves an area with a population of approximately 84,000. He also coordinated Emergency Medical Services for that department.
He takes over for former Fire Chief Jeff Cammack, who retired last February after 32 years as a firefighter and the last 15 as Bangor’s chief.
Also while in Michigan, starting in 2010, Lucas worked as director of athletic and community services for Dexter Community Schools. He was tasked with merging several departments, including athletics, children’s services and community education, in an attempt to cut costs. Lucas used the fire department management model to reshape the departments — establishing a chief who reports to the city, and assistant chiefs who oversee departments underneath him.
After the merger was completed, Lucas said he didn’t think he’d enjoy the day-to-day tasks of organizing team schedules and the administrative work associated with the position, so he decided to leave and eventually accepted the fire chief position in Bangor.
Lucas has been active in athletics for years. He coached Division I wrestling at Eastern Michigan University for seven years as a second job. He also has coached at middle and high schools, he said.
He has competed as a freestyle wrestler in the World Police and Fire Games seven times. He won six medals in five countries on three continents during the biennial games, which draw more than 10,000 police and firefighter athletes from 70 countries.
Lucas’ start in Bangor comes during an active, sometimes tragic fire season in the area. On Dec. 20, Bangor firefighters responded to a pair of unrelated house fires on Third Street.
The fire chief commended Bangor firefighters for their “wonderful stop” on the first blaze of the day — an early-morning fire at a multi-unit apartment building at 62 Third St. that crews managed to contain to one unit. Less than 16 hours later, firefighters battled a second fire at 108 Third St., saving the owners’ pet rabbits on the first floor.
“They are an outstanding department,” Lucas said. “I anticipated that was the case when I interviewed and when I did my research on the town. But the level of expertise they have, the equipment they have, the support from the council and the city manager work very well together.”
Recent deadly fires in nearby communities have shed a spotlight on the importance of education and prevention, Lucas said.
Less than a month before he started his new job, a fire in Orrington claimed the lives of 30-year-old Ben Johnson III, his sons Ben, 9, and Ryan, 4, and 8-year-old daughter, Leslie. The sole survivor of the fire was wife and mother Christine Johnson, 31, who was rescued from the roof of the house by neighbors and firefighters. Officials said there were no working smoke alarms in the home.
There have been 19 fire fatalities in Maine in 2012, according to state Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas.
The importance of education can’t be overstated in fire prevention, Lucas said.