Live-in students help southern Maine fire departments, learn essential skills

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FALMOUTH — While most college students live in dorms or share tiny apartments with roommates, students in Southern Maine Community College’s Fire Science program spend their college years living in fire stations.

“I love it,” said Zach Tooker, 19, who lives in the West Falmouth station. “It’s pretty sweet. You’re there if the truck rolls out at night. I like getting up in the middle of the night and helping people.”

Tooker came to SMCC from Westfield, Mass., for the live-in program, which, he said, has been great for teaching the hands-on skills he’ll need when he graduates next June.

“I love it here,” he said. “I think this is the best program.”

While Tooker has lived in the West Falmouth station for more than a year, other students are just beginning their training. After spending the first part of the summer reading and taking online quizzes, 15 students are beginning their hands-on training at the Falmouth and Yarmouth fire stations.

On Monday, Aug. 16, they learned how to roll and pack hoses.

“It’s a great program,” Falmouth Fire Chief Howard Rice said. “It helps us with staffing, and they’re getting a good background. They’ll have a leg up when then graduate.”

Rice said the program means Falmouth trucks go out on calls with four to six people aboard, as opposed to two or three when the students are not available.

The students must work at least 12 hours per week to “pay” for their rooms, which, Rice said, saves the department and taxpayers money. The students often work the least popular hours, such as overnights and weekends, and the department can rely on having someone in the station when the full-time staff has gone home.

Other fire departments participate in the training, sending staff to give lessons in safety, gear maintenance and power tools.

Raymond Assistant Fire Chief Bruce Tupper helped out with the hose training, showing students the proper way to roll hoses so they can be unrolled and used as quickly as possible at the next call.

“This is a good group. They work hard,” Tupper said. “A lot of them are coming in with no experience.”

While they may start with little to no experience, they learn quickly.

“It’s been fairly relaxed so far, but they definitely put us under pressure so we’re used to the pressure when we start to go on calls,” said Tucker Reece, 19, who moved into the Scarborough Fire Department station on Aug. 7.

Reece came to SMCC from Marblehead, Mass., and said the hardest thing so far is getting used to all the distractions and noise in the station.

“We have a scanner in the department, which is definitely something to get used to. If anyone goes out, it wakes you up,” Reece said.

He shares a room in the Scarborough station with another young man in the same program and can begin going out on calls after they finish the three-week training program in Falmouth and Yarmouth.

“I’m very excited,” Reece said. “I’ve wanted to be a firefighter as long as I can remember.”

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net

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Ashley Wax, 19, of Oxford and Tucker Reece, 19, of Marblehead, Mass., work on properly rolling fire hoses during training at the Falmouth Fire Department station on Bucknam Road on Aug. 16. The students are part of a live-in training program through Southern Maine Community College that places students in fire departments all over southern Maine, where they live in the stations, train by going out on calls, and continue their studies at school.

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