It used to be that when New Gloucester Fire and Rescue responded to your call, it was likely you’d recognize the responders because they were all local volunteers, neighbors and cousins and folks you’d bump into around town. Now, as everywhere else in rural America, things are changing.
It may be hard – but it’s not all bad! One of the very good things going on at our Fire/Rescue station these days is the inclusion of two live-in students from the Southern Maine Community College Fire Service degree program. The program places students with area fire stations to complement their class-room learning with real-life experience in every part of the fire service life, from responding to calls, to cleaning the station and cooking for the crew. The students get free lodging in single rooms at the station with cable, wi-fi, and dorm-like furnishings, but pay for their food and their tuition.
SMCC’s live-in program is the only one offered in New England, and New Gloucester is one of 16 towns in southern Maine currently participating. That’s what brought Craig Vendetti here from Brewster, MA, after a year post-technical school working as a diesel technician with GM. Craig heard of the program from friends who went through it, and decided to apply. While no one in his family has been a firefighter, there is a tradition of military service, and Craig said he was looking for the experience of being part of a brotherhood and serving the community.
James Pino, who grew up in the Belgrade Lakes area and lives in Augusta, says he originally intended to be police officer, following in the footsteps of his mother’s boyfriend Carlos who is a police officer in Cambridge, MA. But it was Carlos himself who suggested that firefighting might be a better choice, citing among other things the respect that people have for firefighters. James took a firefighter class at Mid-Maine Technical Center, and loved it, so applied to the firefighter degree program at SMCC.
To get into the live-In program, the students had to apply with transcripts and recommendations, and then take part in a 3-week training session that included classroom work and days of drilling on the physical tasks of firefighting like raising ladders, handling the hoses, and breaking down doors. At the end of the training they were interviewed, with two interviewers in the room with them, and another 80 or so interested personnel from various fire departments watching them from another room on a video feed. After the interviews were over, they waited for interested fire department representatives to approach them and make offers. Craig compares it to going through the NFL draft process.
The students continue to take classes at SMCC during the week, and are on-call nights for fire calls, and on scheduled duty weekends. They go out on calls, take part in all fire department meetings and post-incident reviews. As students, they may not enter a burning building, and may not drive the fire apparatus, but everything else they can do according to their qualifications and the chief’s needs. They are both excited about experience they’ve gained through the calls they have participated in, which to date have included rollovers, brush fire, car fires, smoke alarms, gas smells, chimney fires, auto accidents, and a fatal motorcycle crash. They receive feedback from the chief and a full-time SMCC live-In coordinator on a regular basis, and also discuss their experiences with their peers and professors in their SMCC classes.
Both students say they have bonded well with the New Gloucester Fire/Rescue crew, and are learning a lot from both the community fire dept. members and the per-diems. The placement may have been more of a change for Craig, who likens New Gloucester to “the old west, without the tumbleweed,” and they both note that there is not much for them to do here in terms of socializing, especially as they are under 21. But they also say between the work that is expected of them, and their regular studies, they keep busy.
They both look forward to a career in firefighting. James is hoping to find a job and home in the Augusta area, while Craig expects to work his way up into a city department like LA or San Francisco.