Instructor Chris Desjardins, wearing red, helps carry student Aidan Klik during a training session at the Southern Maine Community College Fire Academy in Yarmouth. Krysteana Scribner / The Forecaster

YARMOUTH — For three weeks, 35 Southern Maine Community College students are learning skills that will make them more marketable as firefighters.

Instructor Hale Fitzgerald teaches students how to break down a door during a fire drill Aug. 12 at the Fire Academy training location in Yarmouth. Krysteana Scribner / The Forecaster

With 14 students from Maine and 21 from other New England states, the Fire Academy gives firefighter hopefuls the chance to learn real-world experience through training exercises in basic fire and emergency medical services skills.

Students who participate in the program live and work at fire stations in southern Maine while enrolled as full-time students at the South Portland college. The Fire Academy, which operates behind the Yarmouth Transfer Station, began Aug. 5 and runs through Aug. 23. The training prepares students for their firefighter certification tests in September.

The program also helps fire and EMS departments supplement their staffs, which is vital because the ranks of volunteer firefighters have fallen in recent years, Falmouth Fire Chief Howard Rice said in a press release Aug. 6.

“This gives them the hands-on skills they need to do the job,” North Yarmouth Fire Chief Greg Payson said. “It’s better for us to hire someone with the skills already set, rather than spend six or more months getting their skills up to par with the rest of the team.”

“Usually we have some students who return or show up with some experience, but this year, no one has experience from anywhere else,” Payson said. “It’s nice, but it makes it challenging because we’re building off of ground zero with these kids.”

This year’s incoming group includes Fire Science and Paramedicine students, and one nursing student, said Steve Willis, chairman of SMCC’s Fire Science program.

Participants are serving 30 fire-EMS stations in 16 communities, stretching from Kennebunk in the south to Topsham in the east to as far inland as Raymond.

Instructor Rachel Welsh shows students how to use fire extinguishers during training Monday in Yarmouth. Krysteana Scribner / The Forecaster

Kasey Hartmann, 20, of  New Hampshire, lives at the fire station in Scarborough and participated in the program as a student last year. This year, she returned as an instructor.

Set to receive her fire science degree and EMT license at the end of 2019, Hartmann said she is following in the path of several relatives and is honored to be a part of the program.

“I’m expected to wake up at 7:30 a.m., do my truck checks, be part of the crew, go on calls, attend school and get good grades, so it is a lot of work,” she said. “As a girl, I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but after coming here and seeing a bunch of other people do it, I realized you can do the job if you put the effort in.”

Christopher Phelps, 18, who lives in Connecticut and is stationed in Raymond for his live-in program, said the most interesting aspect of the program so far has been the opportunity to live at a fire station and be part of the department.

“I heard from a friend how good this program was and how was told it made for amazing references,” he said. “If someone gets chosen for the program, they should know the academy is very hard but very beneficial. I’ve learned a lot.”


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