AUGUSTA – The number of people who are becoming firefighters has steadily decreased over the last century in Maine and across the nation. One of the reasons is the tremendous amount of training required to enter a burning building.
The House and Senate have both endorsed a bill that would provide $1 million from the general fund to add a new state-owned training facility and upgrade the six we currently have.
“We are one of the very few in the county who does not have their own training facilities,” Winthrop Fire Chief Dan Brooks told those who gathered in the Hall of Flags.
The state requires hours of training to become a firefighter and currently, most of the state’s recruits travel to Brunswick to attend classes at the Maine Fire Service Institute, or other southern Maine training facilities.
“This bill is about rural Maine and our state’s refusal to do anything about the fact that we’re struggling to attract and retain firefighters who serve and protect our communities on a daily basis,” said House Majority Leader Representative Erin Herbig, D-Belfast.
Today’s firefighters, especially volunteers, typically have a full-time job that takes them away from their hometowns during the day, several chiefs said. “They just don’t have time and what we’re finding is that right now that is our biggest difficulty,” Liberty Fire Chief Bill Gillespie said.
The benefits of having live-fire and other hands-on training, where teams are forced to depend on each other, provide tremendous returns, said State Rep. Tim Theriault, who is the fire chief in China. “These facilities will help in recruitment and retention because once you’ve done those things, it builds a camaraderie that you cannot imagine,” Theriault said.
The fire training facilities in Maine, all built before 1995, are out of date and need to be refurbished. For example, none of the six training sites are set up for aerial ladder training, the fire chiefs said.
The funds would change that.