OAKLAND — If there’s one thing that comes with being a firefighter, it’s constantly keeping up your skill set.

“It’s training, training, training,” said Phillips firefighter Noah Rousseau, while attending a 16-hour training session on learning to extract trapped people from their vehicles in a car accident.

Rousseau, 20, was among 29 firefighters from across the state who attended the Central Maine Fire Attack School class Saturday and Sunday in Oakland.

Fire departments across the state have been struggling to recruit and retain firefighters, particularly young firefighters like Rousseau. The number of firefighters in the state has dropped over the past 20 years from about 12,000 to around 8,000.

One of the challenges of retention that fire chiefs often cite is the demands of training on firefighters, most of whom in central Maine are on-call and either paid a per call wage, a stipend or are completely volunteer.

Instructor Ryan Johnson, of the Oakland Fire Department, said some of the attendees were learning about extrication for the first time while others had taken classes before but were learning about new techniques. Vehicle technology is always evolving, said Johnson, and new techniques need to be learned to safely dismantle parts of a car that might have a hybrid engine or run on alternative fuels or some other particular.

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“This could really be a 40-hour class,” said Johnson, who said there is a much deeper level they could reach in learning about where to cut and what to avoid during an extrication. “The range of techniques is tremendous.”

Firefighters learn basic information on extrication in their Firefighter I and II training, which takes about 160 hours and provides the baseline. Above awareness training, Johnson said additional extrication training includes operations training, like Sunday’s class, and technician level training.

The firefighters divided into groups in a parking lot near the Oakland fire station and used different hydraulic tools to remove roofs, tear off doors and gain entry into the different practice cars.

Sedgwick firefighter Jessica Ebert, 35, who was learning the techniques for the first time Saturday, said it’s important for her to continue training in different skill sets because she lives in a small town without a lot of mutual aid.

Ebert said because she works at a store in town, Mike’s Market, she’s one of the first ones at an accident in the town of 1,100. With car accidents more frequent than fires, she said it’s important for the first ones on the scene to understand what to do.

Ebert said she started out with the Hancock County department 15 years ago as a dispatcher and then became the department photographer. Six months ago she became one of the firefighters on the line.

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Standing nearby, New Sharon firefighter Jason Lunt said there’s “an awful lot to it” when it comes to training to be a prepared firefighter, and it takes dedication since the volunteers at his department are not paid for their time to go to classes.

“Especially for a volunteer department, it’s our time being used to come out to train,” said Lunt, president of the fire department board of directors.

Lunt said it can be hard to get new people, particularly young people, to join the crew because of the time commitment it takes.

“They last a little while, but they don’t stay,” he said.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

[email protected]

 


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