Scarborough firefighters, Russian colleagues find common ground

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SCARBOROUGH — Five Russian firefighters visited town Tuesday, part of a week-long tour of southern Maine fire departments.

The exchange program was orchestrated through the Archangel Committee, founded in 1988 as a nonprofit organization that coordinates sister city relationships with 14 greater Portland municipalities and Archangel (Arkhangel’sk), Russia.  

The firefighters from Archangel arrived Sunday, Jan. 17 and will have visited at least five departments by the end of the week.  In Scarborough, they learned about local fire and building codes, and general day-to-day operations.

Jim Butler, commercial code enforcement officer and fire inspector for the department, organized Tuesday’s events, and said the day was “very busy, but eventful.”

“I think they learned a lot, but I also did as well,” Butler said. 

Archangel is a city of about 350,000, compared with Scarborough’s population of approximately 22,000.

It’s interesting to think that “we’re all doing the same job,” Butler said. “Obviously we have different ways of doing it, but the end goal is the same no matter where you are.”

“I never really thought about, ‘Hey, I wonder how Russian firefighters put out fires in Russia,’ but not it’s got me intrigued at how they’re able to cover such a large population with so few resources,” he said. 

With translation from Karin Whitney of Portland, Sergei Kvashnin, 29, the leader of his department’s fire team, said “More than anything, I just like to hang out and talk to the local firemen.”

Kvashin has been a firefighter for six years. This trip is the first professional exchange program he or his department has participated in, he said. 

Kvashin and his colleagues spent Monday with the Westbrook Fire Department, Wednesday with the Augusta Fire Department, Thursday in Bath and Brunswick, and will be in Portland on Friday. 

So far, he said Tuesday as he ate lunch, the biggest differences he noted were the quality of equipment, which he said is much more “modern and contemporary here.”

“There are certainly similarities, too,” he said. The banter and general camaraderie is surprisingly similar, he said. “We laugh a lot, tell a lot of jokes, like one big happy family.”

Butler agreed. “We definitely felt the camaraderie as well,” he said.

“Definitely I’m glad that we got involved with the program,” Butler said. “Hopefully for years to come we can continue to have this relationship. It’s the beginning of something new, to have international connections.”

Chief Michael Thurlow said “It’s just the same service with the same problems, but just with different teams inside the trucks. We perform the same type of work, but we do it a little bit differently. We always have an opportunity to learn from others.” 

According to a Jan. 14 press release, the committee is in the process of applying for state funding to send two groups of fire and rescue staff from Maine to Archangel in April and August. Another group from Archangel will visit again in April. 

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or aacquisto@theforecaster.net. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

Sergei Kvashnin, left, Natalia Kalinina, Viktor Kozelskii, Svetlana Kuznetcova and Konstanin Ipatov in front of a Scarborough Fire Department truck Wednesday. The group from Archangel, Russia, is visiting greater Portland fire departments.

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South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.