FARMINGTON — On one of this year’s first warm, sunny spring days in Franklin County, 40 firefighters from multiple Maine counties spent eight hours in heavy clothing, helmets and respirators.
At the Western Maine Public Safety Training Facility, one of the state’s newest fire training facilities which opened last year, they learned how to clear smoke from a burning building, use a chainsaw to break through heavy debris and enter and exit safely through a simulated house fire.
Carly Taylor, a high school senior at Dexter Regional High School, came with three other firefighter trainees to learn new skills. Firefighting is hard work, she said, but she enjoys the challenge.
“I’ve learned to know my skills and how to be patient,” she said. “And I like knowing I’ve saved things that are important to people, like pictures or pets.”
Levi Gould is a graduate of RSU 9 in Farmington, and completed the firefighting curriculum at the district’s Foster Career and Technical Education Center. Today, he’s a volunteer with the Farmington Fire Department.
“I’ve been there for three years, and I want to learn important techniques I can use when I have to deal with fighting a fire,” he said.
As students at regional technology centers, Taylor and Gould were each required to have 250 hours of class time and additional live training, often on weekends with local fire departments. Students may also be required to earn first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and automated external defibrillator certifications.
Adults and young people have to become familiar with protective clothing, called turnout gear, including helmets and masks. They learn to work as a team, operating high-pressured hoses, and sophisticated life-saving equipment. Everyone is responsible for maintaining their gear and their station’s firetrucks.
The Western Maine Public Safety Training Facility is one of three sites funded by the Maine Fire Protection Services Commission.
Director Jim Graves of the Maine Fire Service Institute said the Maine Fire Protection Commission, comprised of representatives from counties, fire departments and training facilities, lobbied the state’s Legislature to fund improved statewide fire training. They had to convince legislators that regional training was the most cost effective and least expensive option.
“Way back, the state wanted a single fire training facility at a cost of $40 million,” Graves said. “That wasn’t a cost-benefit model for fire training in Maine.”
The 218th Maine Legislature agreed to fund the Farmington, Yarmouth and Fairfield facilities. Graves said he hoped to see another eight training sites built around the state.
The live-fire training building on Seamon Road in Farmington has two burn rooms with a customized insulated panel system to contain fire and to allow the burn rooms to be used multiple times, which Farmington Fire Chief Terry Bell said is essential. Other items like straw bales and wood pallets can be used for training. The ventilation simulator teaches trainees how to exhaust smoke from a burning building.
Saturday’s training was attended by firefighting students and professional firefighters in Androscoggin, Franklin, Oxford and other Maine counties.
In 2019, the Maine Fire Protection Services Commission awarded the Farmington Fire Rescue Department a $539,964 grant to build the 2½-story steel building with an attached four-story, training tower. The building and its programs are supported by state and local agencies, and by RSU 9.