ORRINGTON, Maine — Several communities in the Bangor area have donated equipment and resources over the last two weeks to train a dozen future firefighters, with experience from fire fighting veterans being the most important gift.
“The knowledge base that has come here to teach is above par,” said Holden Fire Department Lt. Chris Beaumont of the Penobscot County Fire Academy.
“We’ve had instructors from all over the place,” he said, as firefighter trainees practiced their skills behind him on a vacant home in Orrington.
The 12 firefighter trainees — four from Hermon, three from Orrington and one each from Bar Harbor, Eddington, Glenburn, Hampden and Holden — have spent the last two weeks training on everything from how to handle a water hose to searching a smoke filled house. The training was to culminate Friday.
“It all comes to a big conclusion tomorrow with two live fires,” Beaumont said.
Three teams of four firefighters attacked three different tasks during Thursday’s training, Beaumont said.
“The first crew is working on a vent in the roof, and the second crew is working on bringing a patient down a ladder, and the third crew is doing a search inside,” said the lieutenant, who has coordinated the fire academy for the last two years.
Volunteer firefighting stretches back to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Benjamin Franklin helped found the country’s first volunteer fire department — the Union Fire Company in Philadelphia — in 1736.
Back then, any able-bodied man who arrived at a fire was put to work, but now, firefighting is left to the experts.
Basic Firefighter I certification takes 110 to 120 hours of training, and on-the-job training has become a thing of the past.
“Nobody can just walk on and get boots and a helmet anymore,” Beaumont said.
Because of the amount of training required, finding people to do the job has become harder, Orrington Fire Chief Mike Spencer said.
“It’s tough for volunteer fire departments,” he said.
“With today’s standards, they really have to be committed individuals to be firefighters,” Brewer Public Safety Director Perry Antone said.
Orrington has two full time fire department employees, Spencer and the assistant chief, and 24 on-call personnel.
Orrington resident Brian Picard, 51, said he decided to become a firefighter trainee to give back to the community he moved into 23 years ago. He owns and runs Green Frog Lawn Care and had to take a two week vacation to take part in the training.
“I’m plenty capable of helping out,” he said.
Picard said he once was a Cub Scout leader but felt he had more to give.
“I figured it was time I actually did something for the community,” he said, while taking a break in Thursday’s heat.
Bar Harbor trainee Jason Richter and Arick Brown, 20, of Brewer, who also works for Orrington, both said firefighting is a career for them.
“I started in high school at [United Technologies Center in Bangor] and right now I’m in my last semester at [Eastern Maine Community College],” Brown said.
The hands-on training he is getting through the training, “is one of the reasons why I’m here,” he said.
“It’s something I’ve always been interested in,” said Richter, who is an emergency medical technician. “This is career training for me.”
The seven communities where the dozen trainees work are “paying” for the training by supplying teachers, equipment or resources. Similar courses cost $350, the coordinator said.
“It costs a lot of money to put on something like this,” Beaumont said. “The towns sponsor the students to be here.”
Brewer, which has a full time fire department, did not send any trainees but did provide a teacher and their ladder truck.
“It’s just part of being a part of this collaborative effort to train up and coming firefighters from this area,” said Antone, who serves as both police and fire chief for Brewer. “It’s a regional effort.”
The intensive two-week training ends Friday with two live fires at the Bangor Fire Department’s training facility off Odlin Road. The first fire will consist of a live interior burn and the second will be a liquid propane fire.
Beaumont noted that the liquid fire is “challenging and a lot can go wrong in a hurry.”
Yet, while he is still nervous, Beaumont said the trainees have “come a long way” in the last two weeks and are prepared for the upcoming practice fires.