BAR HARBOR — To help address the area’s need for new, younger firefighters and expose teenagers to another career option, Mount Desert Island High School and the island’s four fire departments are talking about teaming up to offer a class in firefighting.
Bar Harbor Fire Chief Matt Bartlett, Mount Desert Fire Chief Mike Bender and Southwest Harbor Deputy Fire Chief Jack Martel discussed that possibility in a recent meeting with high school Principal Matt Haney and freshman guidance counselor Mark Carignan.
“We’re all struggling for volunteers,” Bender said of the island’s fire departments. “We reached out to Matt [Haney] to see what we could do to spark some interest at the high school.”
He said they talked about offering a class in basic and advanced firefighting, which would qualify students to be certified as interior structure firefighters in Maine.
“After that, if they want to join the fire departments [as volunteers], they can,” Bender said. “And when they get out of school, if they want to pursue it as a career, they’ve already got that part of the training behind them.”
Haney said such a class could be good for the entire community because “everybody benefits from healthy fire departments.”
He noted that the island’s fire departments are having a hard time recruiting and retaining enough volunteers.
“They are doing a great job, but you can see it in the chief’s faces. So, if we could develop some young men and women who have some skills and would like to go into that field, especially if they end up living and working on the island, that would obviously help,” Bender said.
Haney said he has spoken briefly with technology instructor Bruce Munger, who is a captain with the Sullivan Volunteer Fire Department, about teaching a firefighting class. But that would mean dropping one of the classes he currently teaches.
“He is already teaching a lot of students a lot of really important skills,” Haney said of Munger. “We wouldn’t want him not doing that unless there was a really big call [for a firefighting class]. The surest way for it to become a reality is if a bunch of students say they really want to take that sort of class.”
Haney said the high school wouldn’t start planning its elective course offerings for next school year for another month or so.
Bender said Munger wouldn’t necessarily have to do all or even most of the teaching.
“I think they would rely on the area fire departments coming in and doing much of it, especially the hands on,” he said. “We have already talked about sharing the responsibility among the four fire departments as much as we can.”
Meanwhile, the idea of building a fire training facility on a section of the high school’s property is still on the table. The island’s fire chiefs are to meet again with the school’s board of trustees Dec. 14 to further discuss that possibility.
An engineering and environmental study of the property this summer determined that it was “generally suitable” for a fire training facility.
But several high school trustees have expressed reservations. One of them, Steve Hudson, said in a previous meeting, “I think [the fire chiefs] are going to have a hard time proceeding with this because the area they’ve got to work with is very, very small. I don’t think it’s going to be practical.”
Haney has previously expressed the view that a fire training facility on school property would be an asset. He said again Monday that it could be “mutually beneficial” to students and the community.