AUBURN, Maine — Firefighting techniques may be roughly the same in the U.S. as they are in Eastern Europe, but the approach to training firefighters is quite different.
Pawel Gatarczyk, 21, a third-year cadet in the country of Poland’s fire services academy, is learning that firsthand.
“In school, we are very much more regimented,” Gatarczyk said. “We have to maintain strict order in the schools. But after school, I think the service is very much like it is here.”
Gatarczyk will spend the month of September training with the Auburn Fire Department and visiting other fire stations around central Maine and in Boston.
It’s part of an intern program through Warsaw’s Szkola Glowna Sluzby Pozarniczej — which roughly translates into the Main School of Fire Services. That’s the top academy for Poland’s national firefighting service, similar to West Point or the Air Force Academy, according to Auburn fire Chief Frank Roma.
“The Polish government pays for his education,” Roma said. “When he graduates as a fire officer, he’ll owe the government a certain number of years of service. It’s very much the equivalent of a U.S. service academy. These are sharp kids. Many of them are science and engineering majors.”
Five of the academy’s top cadets are interning at fire departments around the U.S. this month — in Colorado, Illinois, Texas and Virgina, as well as Maine. Roma has hosted cadets before, in his previous fire chief position in Texas, but this is the first time one has come to New England.
“He has full turnout gear and uniforms,” Roma said. “When he is here, he is one of us. There are no differences. We don’t want him to feel at all outside of what we’re doing.”
Gatarczyk comes from a firefighting tradition. His father, Andrzej, is the battalion chief at his hometown of Radzyn Podlaski, a small city in the eastern part of Poland near the border with Belarus.
He didn’t always want to be a firefighter.
“When I was very young I did, but when I was in middle school I wanted to work in technology,” Gatarczyk said. “When I grew up and went to secondary school, I watched how my father worked. And at that moment, I wanted to be a firefighter again.”
He’s studying fire safety engineering at the academy, with an emphasis in physics. He’ll be stationed as an officer upon graduation.
The coursework is varied; equal parts scholastic work and hands-on practice.
“We do many different studies and books, but we do go on actual calls for service,” he said. “It is different every time; sometimes we respond to a fire, sometimes to an accident.”
Gatarczyk said the biggest difference here is the handling of emergency medical calls.
“The tactics are very similar, but firefighters don’t respond to those calls,” Gatarczyk said. “That is handled by another department. But the other tactics for fighting fires are all very similar.”
Gatarczyk will participate in Auburn’s 911 Commemoration on Wednesday, wearing his dress uniform from the academy.
Roma said the station’s crew has taken Gatarczyk under its wing, showing him around Maine. That means lobster and island kayaking in Casco Bay.
“He’s going to get to see a little bit of Maine and New England while he’s here,” Roma said. “And this is a beautiful time to be here.”