Bucksport High School to offer firefighting classes

BUCKSPORT — So you want to be a firefighter? Bucksport High School and the Bucksport Fire Department have partnered to offer a new course in firefighting skills and knowledge for RSU 25 students aged 16 and older.

Starting this month, the junior firefighter cadet program will last nearly the entire school year. Participants can become fully certified firefighters if they pass the exams at the end of the course.

“We have been trying to brainstorm ideas on how to get younger people involved in EMS [emergency medical services] and public safety,” said Bucksport Fire Chief Craig Bowden. “We’re hoping this will pique the interest of kids wondering if it’s something they would want to do.”

Bowden said he also hopes the class will boost the number of young people in his department.

While Bucksport has 35 on-call firefighters, Bowden said only five of them are younger than 30, and 15 of them are over 50. The age gap can be a problem in the exhausting world of firefighting.

“When you have a structure fire, you need to keep younger people on the department to have them do the strenuous labor, the interior attack,” the chief said.

Even just a few more young participants could help, he added, especially since they tend to come in pairs.

“We’ve found that when young adults get into this, lots of time they’ll have a friend or a buddy that might want to get into it too,” Bowden said.

The department offered a similar program last year, but Bowden found that it was difficult to attract students who were already busy with school and extracurricular activities.

To make it easier for students to attend, this year’s program will offer high school and college credits for participants.

“It’s a win-win for both of us,” said Bucksport High School Principal Josh Tripp. “We can provide this opportunity for students and it can enhance the programming at the Fire Department.”

Tripp explained that the class still has to pass through the school’s curriculum committee before it can be adopted fully into the school’s official course offerings.

For now, the class is offered as an internship, but it still counts toward the school’s graduation requirements.

“We’ll try to get it through the committee this year,” he said.

Bowden said the class will essentially be the school-year length version of the Hancock County Fire Academy. Students will learn all the essential skills of the job, from how to classify fire and smoke behavior to how to use an air-pack and handle a fire hose.

Classes will take place on Friday afternoons for two hours, and there will be an all-day skills class held on some Sundays.

If the students pass the Firefighter I/II exams at the end of the year, they’ll be qualified to volunteer as firefighters anywhere in Maine and in many places across the country.

For now, only RSU 25 students can attend the class. But if this year is successful, Bowden said he hopes that he can expand the program countywide.

“We can base the class in Bucksport but make it available to schools that participate in Hancock County Technical Center,” he said. “Maybe it will help out some other towns.”

The class will be taught by a rotating faculty of Bucksport’s instructor-certified firefighters.

While the Fire Department is often overwhelmed by an ever-increasing call volume, Bowden said that the high school classes will be a real treat.

“Anyone who gets on the instructing end of it really enjoys teaching and bringing in younger people,” he said. “It’s not a workload; it’s more of a relief from the everyday stresses.”

David Roza

David Roza

David grew up in Washington County, Maryland, has reported in Washington County, Oregon, and now covers news in Hancock County and Washington County, Maine for The American and Out & About.