2013-11-01 / Front Page

Fire department floats student live-in idea

If accepted, West Kennebunk station would take part in college fire science program
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — The Kennebunk Fire and Rescue Department is partnering with Southern Maine Community College’s Fire Science program to propose a student live-in program at the West Kennebunk Fire Station.

Fire Chief Stephen Nichols and Steve Willis, chairman of the Department of Fire Science at the community college, presented a first reading of the proposal to the board of selectmen last Tuesday evening, Oct. 22.

The student live-in program, administered by Southern Maine Community College, “one of the largest live-in programs in the country,” is in its 25th year, Willis said.

The program is hosted in 27 fire stations across Maine with 71 total students — two-thirds of whom are from Maine.

The live-in program is “a win-win-win situation for the community as well as the college,” Willis told the board.

Reasons the program is advantageous for both the community and students, said Willis, are low-cost staffing at the West Kennebunk fire station, and the fact that “students gain a tremendous amount of spirit; they’re able to apply what they’re learning in the classroom.”

Said Willis, “Generally students have firefighter 1 and 2 training, which is the basic training. Approximately half of the six candidates for this program have Emergency Medical Technician basic training.”

Even if a student isn’t certified at the firefighter 1 and 2 standards, they will go through the program as a live-in student, and become certified along the way.

“It’s very little cost to us – whatever training we do in the department (the students) would be training as well,” Nichols said.

The next program for firefighter 1 and 2 certification begins in January at the West Kennebunk station, coinciding with the start of the semester.

Selectman William Ward asked two questions: “What have we had in the way of problems with people previously in this program? And if they are paramedics or EMTs needing to build that experience, would they be better off down here where the ambulances are?”

While Kennebunk has never hosted student firefighters, Nichols reported that other student live-ins, such as the students from the AmeriCorps program, were “very successful with no problems at all.”

In response to the question about the students’ accommodations, Nichols said they would go out on ambulance calls, especially after they become qualified to drive. “Again, it’s a win-win situation,” Nichols said.

For the college, Willis told the board, “It’s a fulfillment of our mission—we want to be linked to communities.” The hope for the selected students is that they will choose to work in the community after their term as livein students ends.

The programs are not without some obligation, Willis said. “Generally a young college student will need to be supervised and provided with structure and support.” A part of that structure includes a 10 p.m. curfew.

The students will only be paid for the calls they respond to. “A warm place to stay” would be provided for them, Nichols said, otherwise the students would be responsible for their food and all other transportation.

The program could be two to four years, depending on the individual student’s pursuits. Once a student graduates from the program, the fire station is not required to employ them.

“I like this program . . . because there’s no obligation at the end and no one expects it,” said Al Searles, chairman of the board of selectman.

A second reading of the proposal for the student live-in program will take place at the next selectmen’s meeting in early November.

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