The Skowhegan fire station is 9 miles from the entrance of the new Harold Alfond Campus of Kennebec Valley Community College at Good Will-Hinckley.

The 600-acre grounds on both sides of U.S. Route 201 is more than 6 miles from the Fairfield fire station and encompasses all of Good Will-Hinckley, the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences and the satellite community college campus. Emergency response time could be as much as 10 minutes, depending on traffic.

With that in mind, local fire chiefs and KVCC President Richard Hopper have discussed the idea of a shared fire station or rescue vehicle station that not only would affect response time in an emergency, but also would help insurance costs of any home or business within 5 miles of the college and could attract future businesses to the area.

Hopper said that while the plan for a shared fire station or rescue quarters is still just an idea, the hope for such a location on campus is a good one.

A feasibility study would be a good place to start, he said.

“KVCC would like to see first responders closer to our campus. At peak times we have close to a thousand people a day between KVCC and Good Will-Hinckley, so when there’s an emergency, we’d like something to be closer; and I’m sure the people in the community would like it, too.”

Hopper said the college has an interest in whatever the concept ends up being for a first response post on campus, but the plan is in its early stages. Commissioning a feasibility study would need approval from the community college board, and financing for a fire science program would have to come from grants.

He said the campus’s forest land also could be used for firefighter training.

Right now, the plan is still in the dream stage, said Fairfield/Benton Fire Chief Duane Bickford. A feasibility study would be needed and a grant writer found to get the job done, but the possibilities are threefold — improved emergency response time, lower insurance cost and future business, such as boating or kayaking along the Kennebec River.

“It would a great advantage for the whole area,” Bickford said. “It would probably be on the campus somewhere, because they have the acreage to do it. They’re expanding and I would expect their expansion would drive private expansion on the river.”

Skowhegan Fire Chief Shawn Howard received permission from the Board of Selectmen earlier this month to pursue discussion with Bickford and KVCC officials about a possible shared facility that could include Clinton and Canaan.

Howard said after Bickford met with Hopper and got the ball rolling, he felt it was time to get the green light from Skowhegan selectmen to join in the discussion and keep the board informed of the progress.

“I want to make sure the board was okay with us having those conversations to explore the ideas,” he said. “If we were able to provide better fire protection on that (U.S. Route) 201 corridor, my thought is it’s a great spot, right off the interstate, and we could bring more business and jobs into that area. That’s good for Skowhegan, and providing fire coverage up there might be a way of helping that succeed.”

The 600-acre Harold Alfond Campus on U.S. 201 in Hinckley features a 120-acre organic farm, two classroom and laboratory buildings, recreational facilities and historic Moody Chapel. It is the site of KVCC’s innovative farm-to-table education hub focused on sustainable agriculture, food processing and technology, culinary arts, renewable energy and entrepreneurship.

Howard said recent reports of firefighter shortages in Maine also could be solved with a collaboration involving training and education at the college.

Bickford said the idea of a shared facility on the U.S. 201 corridor at KVCC was hatched in 2014 from discussion about a regional training center with Waterville, Winslow and other area communities. That discussion grew to include U.S. 201 and towns including Fairfield, Skowhegan, Clinton and possibly Canaan.

“Right now it’s just a very small discussion of a bigger coalition,” Bickford said. “Out of that came discussions of how we could do things more regionally to improve services, firefighter safety and maybe save some costs. This is where all of that came out of.”

Bickford said the training facility group decided to approach KVCC with the idea of starting a fire science course or EMS training at the college to go along with the school’s paramedic program. He said college personnel training students in a fire science program to run apparatus and offer first response would only sweeten the deal.

Having a fire station shared by area towns also would close the gap for both Skowhegan and Fairfield in the ISO, or Insurance Service Organization, rating, given that most areas in both communities are more than 5 miles from a fire station, Bickford said. Insurance companies rate each fire department on such things as water availability and distance from population centers.

“If you’re within 5 miles of a fire department, you get a discount on your home owner’s or commercial insurance. KVCC is not within 5 miles of a fire department,” Bickford said. “We’re also trying to see if it would be feasible for KVCC to start a fire science program. The closest programs now are South Portland or Bangor.”

About 2,500 full- and part-time students are enrolled at KVCC in credit courses for the 2015-2016 academic year.

Ranked among the best two-year colleges in America, Kennebec Valley Community College offers more than 35 programs in trades and technology, health care, liberal studies, sustainable agriculture, business, education, culinary arts, renewable energy and computer science. More than 95 percent of recent graduates were employed or continuing their education within six months of graduation, and more than 90 percent of KVCC’s graduates stay in Maine, most of them in mid-Maine.

KVCC is one of seven community colleges that operate under the authority of the Maine Community College System Board of Trustees.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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