South Portland business offers free training space to firefighters

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SOUTH PORTLAND — On Wednesday afternoon, Platoon 2 of South Portland Fire Department broke into groups in the HSE Gould warehouse on Cash Street.

While Jason Perry stood atop a steel frame next to a makeshift plywood wall telling fellow firefighters about the ropes, knots and figure-eight carabiners for repelling down a wall, another group of firefighters strapped one of their own into a gurney near an old Mercury turned on its side.

“This is 9-millimeter rope, rather than the 11-millimeter rope we would use,” said Perry, who designed South Portland’s training program while recovering from a non-work related knee injury. “That means you are going to repel faster. I just want you to be aware of that.”

Shortly thereafter, laughter rang out from the other group of firefighters below, who had finished securing their comrade into the gurney and turned him upside down to make sure he was secure.

(He was.)

The South Portland firefighters were taking advantage of a new, indoor training facility at HSE Gould, a fire and safety equipment distributor celebrating its first year in business. The business has already been used by a half dozen fire departments and people learning to service wind turbines.

The company started when Lewiston resident Bill Shader teamed up with Kennebunk resident Bill Harrison to acquire Gould Equipment Co. from Webber Energy, saving five mechanics who would have lost their jobs had the business closed as planned.

Shrader said an additional nine jobs were created when the HSE sales and training center opened, defying the ongoing recession.

“It’s definitely been challenging, but it’s also been very rewarding,” he said.

One of the more rewarding aspects is the safety training facility that is offered to municipal fire departments free of charge.

“These guys want to do the training, but the money just isn’t there,” Shrader said.

Perry said the facility allows firefighters to move past the training manuals and into hands-on experience.

“This is a huge benefit for us,” Perry said. “When he did this, he did it right.”

The training center was designed and built by Harrison, who has more than 30 years of firefighting experience, with the help of the mechanics whose jobs he helped save.

The $25,000 facility consists of a large steel frame, with a variety of plywood walls. There are several movable steel beams for the windows, so firefighters can adjust the window frames to a particular size.

There are several training substations, including attic crawl spaces, that Harrison built based on his own experiences as a firefighter, including an entanglement area that has countless hanging wires and thin metal flashing.

“I was fighting a fire and the suspended ceiling collapsed on me with the all the wires,” Harrison recalled.

There is also a 30-inch pipe that drops down a full story, bends and runs along the floor where rescuers can practice confined-space rescues.

Perry said that confined-space rescues are of particular concern in South Portland, with all of its subsurface drainage and semi-conductor plants.

“That’s a very real possibility in South Portland,” he said.

While the training facility is available to municipal fire departments for free, private organizations may rent it.

Shader and Harrison admitted their safety equipment business could benefit from having so many organizations using their facility, which also includes a classroom with a magnetic marker board and flat-screen TV.

“We can sell you the equipment,” Harrison said. “And we can train you how to use it as well.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or

Sidebar Elements

South Portland firefighter Jason Swinbourne, top, keeps watch as he belays Lt. Harry Weymouth during a rappelling exercise this week at the two-story, indoor training facility at HSE Gould on Cash Street. The firefighters used a variety of equipment to practice difficult rescue situations.