Chief Ronnie Rodriguez of the Skowhegan Fire Department addresses graduates Saturday from the inaugural class at the Twin Rivers Fire Academy during a ceremony at the Oakland Fire Station. The course is the first to use a new training facility in Fairfield to earn a National Fire Protection Association certification. Jake Freudberg/Morning Sentinel

OAKLAND — The first recruits to attend a new regional firefighter training facility in Fairfield to earn a nationally recognized certification celebrated the accomplishment alongside fire officials Saturday.

While some fire departments had already used the facility for training exercises since construction was completed last year, the recently established Twin Rivers Fire Academy was the first to train recruits to the National Fire Protection Association’s Firefighter I and II certification levels, according to Skowhegan Fire Chief Ronnie Rodriguez.

The new facility fills a gap in firefighter training across the region, officials have said.

The training facility’s opening comes amid a push statewide to build more training facilities as fire departments face ongoing staffing shortages, according to Rodriguez, who taught the course.

“Maine is interesting in that there is no central fire academy,” Rodriguez said at the graduation ceremony at the Oakland Fire Station. “And it’s been the work of many people at the state, local, municipal (and) county levels to try to get firefighters adequately trained.”

The approximately 1,200-square-foot, three-story building opened last year after construction began in 2021. A combination of grants and $150,000 from Somerset County funded its construction, which was estimated at about $551,000.


Duane Bickford, who was chief of the Fairfield and Benton Fire-Rescue Department for 23 years before retiring this year, was “instrumental” in getting the facility built, Rodriguez said.

“It has been a long haul,” Bickford said in 2021, when construction began. “But it will be worth it in the end.”

Rodriguez was the program coordinator for the academy’s inaugural class of 19, most of whom have passed the written and practical tests for certification. The Skowhegan chief worked alongside Oakland fire Chief David Coughlin and Fairfield-Benton fire Chief Travis Leary to organize the four-month course.

Many of the recruits were from the Waterville and Skowhegan areas, although some came from as far as Brewer and Winthrop, Rodriguez said.

Some recruits already work as volunteers or paid firefighters in central Maine, but the widely recognized NFPA certification provides them with crucial training and a boost for their careers, Rodriguez said.

“They can take what they’ve learned here and go anywhere in the country,” Rodriguez said.


Gracie Hartung of Winslow, who owns a vehicle detailing business and works for the Fairfield and Benton Fire-Rescue Department, said she did not have much training before taking the course.

“I was fresh out of the gate,” Hartung said.

Now, with the certification, Hartung said she might look for a full-time position with a fire department in the area.

Plans are already in the works for next year’s course, which will most likely begin in the spring or early summer, according to Rodriguez.

“It’s a lot of work,” he said.

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