Yarmouth provides real-world experience for SMCC firefighters-to-be

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YARMOUTH — For most students, summer means time off from school.

For first-year fire science students at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, summer is the time to prepare for their education.

Of the 91 SMCC fire science students who live in fire stations in southern Maine while attending school, 34 are incoming freshmen who must complete a three-week summer training program before the school year starts. The students started training on Aug. 10 and will finish Aug. 28.

The students go to various fire stations in the area and do drills for search and rescue, ladders, pumps, vehicle fires, propane fires, structural fires, and more. On Aug. 17 at Yarmouth’s training facility at the town transfer center, students worked with fire hoses.

Yarmouth Chief Michael Robitaille said it’s important for students to know these skills before they take up residency in the fire stations.

“The reason we do this program is so that when the students arrive at their station they’ll be able to give back to that community,” he said.

Yarmouth has been part of the program for seven years and has four live-in students this summer, two of whom are entering their first year. Robitaille said municipalities pay for the cost of training and housing the students, which is around $700 a person.

He said the stations benefit from having the students on hand because the number of volunteer firefighters is declining. He said the students benefit, too, because of the real-world experience they get.

“This gives (students) the basic skills to perform the job for the community,” he said. “The live-in program allows the students an educational opportunity, as well as provides the community with coverage.”

Kenny Davis, 19, of Kennebunk, is living at the Yarmouth Fire Department. One week into the summer program, he said it was challenging, but enjoyable.

“It’s really hard, but it’s going to pay off in the end,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot.”

Prior to the three-week program the students had to complete 38 chapters of online material. Davis said it’s rewarding to be using what he learned.

“It’s just a lot of fun to take what we are learning in the classroom and apply it to real life,” he said.

Bridget Eldridge, 18, of Gilford, New Hampshire, will be doing her residency in Waterboro.

“There’s so much I’m getting out of it,” she said. “I’m a hands-on learner, so getting to do all this work and be fully involved in it helps so I can be a better firefighter.”

Eldridge said the program is difficult, but it’s building her confidence.

“I’ve learned I can do anything if I work hard and put the time in,” she said. “I believe in myself more.”

Aside from gaining skills for their residencies, students in the summer program will also be taking a test in October to be certified by the state. They’ll graduate from SMCC in two years with associate’s degrees in fire science, and Robitaille said most then go for another two years for a degree in paramedicine.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

A Raymond firefighter assists Ryan Babcock, a Southern Maine Community College fire science student doing a live-in residency at the Yarmouth Fire Department, as four of Babcock’s fellow students observe the fire hose demonstration.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.