Mainers, Russians discuss firefighting at SMCC

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Firefighters from Maine and Russia are working together in greater Portland to learn each other’s best practices.

Capt. Joe Carroll, a lieutenant at the Westbrook Fire Department and a coordinator of the Project Brotherhood Russian American Exchange, said the program centers around “what we do well here and what they do well there.”

Carroll said the Russians excel at fire and victim mental health, as well as fire prevention and education.

The Russians are visiting from March 26 to April 9; on Tuesday the team visited two Southern Maine Community College classes.

Among the visitors were a fire prevention specialist, a fire team leader and a psychologist for fire rescue personnel.

Ekatrina Maksimova, a rescue service psychologist in Westbrook’s sister city, Archangel, said there are “two psychologists for 140 (rescue workers), but to be honest, it’s not enough.”

Maksimova said she sometimes goes on rescue calls not only to help victims and rescue workers, but also to observe how a first-responder talks to a patient. She can use her observations to make suggestions on how to improve communication.

Maksimova said she is a part of the response team – so after a difficult call firefighters can seek her assistance. The psychologists also help firefighters cope with post-traumatic stress. 

The Russians also use psychologists when people are hired. Maksimova said she is part of the interview process and has a role in determining whether an applicant would be a good fit for the job. 

Portland Fire Capt. Chris Goodall, who acted as one of the daily hosts on Tuesday, said his department uses questionnaires to help determine if a candidate would be mentally fit for the job.

Goodall told the students that the Russians put a strong emphasis on the mental health of firefighters, while in the United States fire departments don’t usually employ on-staff psychologists. Goodall said departments have employee assistance programs. 

“We are way behind in the United States,” he said. “You are going to deal with real difficult stuff in your career.”

Carroll said the Russians also have two specialists who teach students of all ages about safety issues that may surround ice, bicycles, fires and cooking. There are safety programs here as well, Carroll said, but the programs in Archangel are superior.

During the class, Maksimova said physical fitness is also emphasized in Russia. She said firefighters’ pay depends on their keeping physically fit.

The Russians also train in brutal winter weather conditions. Maksimova said no matter how bad the weather is, training sessions are not canceled; she attributed a low injury rate to the intense training – last year the department only had one relatively minor injury.

The class also watched a training video that showed Russian fire crews responding to various real emergency scenes.

Most of the footage was taken from helmet cameras worn by firefighters while responding to emergency situations. Wearing helmet cameras while responding to fires is not common in the United States due to privacy laws.

Besides Maksimova, the Russian guests were Svetlana Kuznetsova, fire prevention specialist; Sergei Kvashnin, fire team leader; 15-year-old cadets Maxim Grigoryev and Pavel Kaliaev, and Kuznetsova’s son, fourth-grade student Vadim Kusnetsova.

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or msochan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter@melaniesochan.

Students in a fire ground operations class at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland on Tuesday, April 4, watch helmet-cam video shot by rescue service members from Archangel, Russia.

Ekatrina Maksimov, right, a psychologist for the rescue service in Archangel, Russia, speaks about her role with fire service administration students at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland on Tuesday. With her is Svetlana Kuznetsova, a fire prevention specialist in Archangel.

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