AUGUSTA — Monmouth Academy senior Logan Farr wants to be a firefighter.

His desired profession comes as some Maine fire departments are struggling to find firefighters to join their ranks and the average age of volunteers continues to climb.

A new program planned to start this school year at the regional Capital Area Technical Center in Augusta aims to help students like Farr learn the ropes of firefighting. In turn, that will help Maine fire departments gain new members even as the number of people becoming firefighters continues to spiral down nationwide.

Though the program does not yet have a teacher, Capital Area Technical Center, after a few years of advocacy from Augusta Fire Chief Roger Audette and others about the need for firefighter training, plans to start a year-long program — Firefighting I and Firefighting II — this year.

Audette said students completing the program will be able to fight fires and could serve in volunteer departments across the state. They could also, with additional training to become paramedics, be hired by Augusta or another full-time fire department, and start a career helping people survive and escape emergencies.

Farr joined Monmouth Fire Department’s junior firefighter program after hearing about it from his family’s plumber, and since he needed to get community service hours required by his school, he checked it out. He liked it so much now he wants to be a firefighter as a career.

“I really enjoy the sense of camaraderie, it’s a nice environment,” he said of the fire station. “And I like helping people.”

But junior firefighters lacking the necessary training to enter a burning building can’t fight fires.

To take the required firefighting training he’d need to be able to fight fires, without the new program, Farr’s only option would have been training at night. That would mean missing out on after-school activities with his friends, such as playing sports, and also would have made it difficult to work a job at the same time.

“This is three to four hours a day, five days a week, for the entire school year,” Farr said of the planned new CATC program. “That makes it a lot easier for me. I’d miss out on a lot (if training was after school and at night).”

Audette said there are already five or six firefighter programs in technical schools in Maine, including programs at Foster Career and Technical Education Center in Farmington and Mid-Maine Technical Center in Waterville. He said he’d talked with Augusta school officials about starting such a program for three or four years, but it never came to fruition — until now.

While Augusta’s department is currently fully staffed, at times the department has struggled to attract and retain firefighters. Volunteer departments, many of which do pay their firefighters for their time fighting fires, are also struggling to find enough firefighters.

In 1984, there were 898,000 volunteer firefighters in the United States, according to the National Volunteer Fire Council. In 2017, there were just 683,000.

Meanwhile, the total number of calls for help to fire departments in the United States is trending in the opposite direction, with 11.9 million calls in 1986, and 35.3 million calls in 2016.

Nick Gannon, new director of Capital Area Technical Center, said students from the technical center’s eight sending high schools — Augusta’s Cony High School, Gardiner Area High School, Maranacook Community High School, Richmond High School, Monmouth Academy, Winthrop High School, Hall-Dale High School and Erskine Academy — who are interested in taking the program should contact officials in their local school system to enroll. He said a few students are signed up already because they’d heard the program was coming.

Gannon said CATC has tentative plans to also offer, as soon as next year, a second year of programming that would train students as emergency medical technicians.

“Those things together would make you employable at a full-time fire department,” he said.

Audette said they’re trying to spread the word about the new program, including contacting other local fire departments in case they may know of youth interested in the program.

Farr said his goal is to complete both the Firefighting I and II programs at Capital Area Technical Center in his upcoming senior year, then attend a community college to get his associate’s degree in fire science and become a full-time firefighter.

Augusta Firefighter/Paramedic Brittany Corey at Augusta’s Hartford Station on Thursday. Corey attended firefighting classes as a high school student in Waterville. Augusta Fire Department is offering a class for students through the Capitol Area Technical Center. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Brittany Corey, of Oakland, a full-time firefighter/paramedic for the Augusta Fire Department, trained through a similar program about 10 years ago at the technical center in Waterville.

She said the training included hands-on lessons to help her become proficient in fighting fires, including how to use the airpacks firefighters rely on inside smoke-filled buildings.

“It was definitely beneficial,” Corey said of the the training program. “Quite a few of us here have taken it.”

She said firefighting is a good career, but one that takes a certain kind of person.

Audette said students in the program will take their classroom lessons at CATC and will be able to do hands-on training at Augusta Fire Department’s Western Avenue station, which is not currently staffed. He said the building is already heated anyway, because equipment is stored there, so using the facility for training shouldn’t cost the city additional money.

He said the city will provide an old fire truck with which they can train, and he’s rounding up fire gear and equipment that’s no longer being used by active firefighters for use by students in the program. Students will be bused from CATC to the station for hands-on training there.

Audette said he hopes the program will draw in new firefighters while they’re still young. He said he graduated from high school in 1983 but didn’t become a firefighter until he was 28. He said if he had been exposed to firefighting when he was younger, he likely would have become a firefighter then.

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