After a year of research and planning, the Standish Fire Department opened a new school for hopeful firefighters last month.

The Saco River Regional Fire Academy is a unique program in the area aimed at condensing fire professional’s schooling into months instead of years.

The seven-month course runs from February to September. When completed, students will be eligible for Firefighter 1 and 2 certification, a process that can sometimes take up to two years.

“At the academy we don’t just teach one thing at a time, we teach all the courses together. It is much more beneficial to the students,” explained academy coordinator and Standish firefighter Jon Keenan.”

The department spent the past year speaking with professionals in the industry including teachers, chiefs and firefighters in order to make sure they had all the tools needed to make the academy worthwhile and useful to the students.

“It took a year of planning to organize and find instructors for the program,” said Keenan. “I believe we have the best qualified instructors in the state and that the program will be very successful.”

Held at the Steep Falls Fire Barn two nights a week, classes include physical training, salvage and overhaul, tools and equipment, and hazardous materials training.

There are currently nine towns in southern Maine that sponsor students in the program. They include Standish, Old Orchard Beach, Raymond, Brunswick, Wells, Hiram, Buxton, West Paris and Scarborough.

“I am very pleased with how it is going at the Standish Fire Academy,” said Old Orchard Beach Fire Chief John Glass. “From all the feedback I’ve received, it is a very well run academy.”

Buxton Fire Chief James Graves agreed.

“I think they are doing an excellent job, I am very satisfied with the training,” said Graves. “This profession is very dangerous, which a lot of students don’t realize. The academy is very disciplined and I think students are seeing the seriousness of that through the classes. They now have an understanding of it.”

The Buxton Fire Department sponsors two students in the program, and Graves has been a guest instructor at the academy teaching fire behavior and hazardous materials.

Other instructors include retired fire chiefs, Southern Maine Community College professors and career firefighters.

If the academy is successful in its mission this year, Standish will consider making a permanent commitment to the school.

“We would love to be able to offer it every year,” said Keenan. “It is a great program and hopefully we can continue with it.”

For more information on the Saco River Regional Fire Academy, contact Jon Keenan at [email protected] or call 617-281-0393.

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