BAR HARBOR — A piece of Mount Desert Island High School property that is just under three acres in size has been identified by the island’s fire chiefs as a potential site for a firefighter training facility.
The wooded parcel is a short distance south of the high school’s entrance drive and baseball diamond. It is bordered on the east by wetlands and Route 233 (Eagle Lake Road), on the west by a power line easement and on the south by an area designated as a 100-year flood zone.
The training facility would include a two- or three-story “burn building” where firefighters could practice battling structure fires, a parking lot and ideally a small classroom building. The chiefs had estimated they would need three-and-a-half to four acres of land.
But Mount Desert Fire Chief Mike Bender last week told the high school’s board of trustees, which is responsible for buildings and grounds, that the site being considered is estimated to be only about 2.9 acres.
“One of the things we may have to compromise on is the classroom facility,” Bender said. “I don’t think there’s going to be enough room for that. But (otherwise) we feel we have enough room there to do what we want to do.”
Bender said the fire chiefs might want to talk with high school officials about using a classroom at the school if they aren’t able to build their own.
At the request of the trustees, school system Superintendent Howard Colter will ask the school’s attorneys if there would be any legal obstacles to allowing construction of the fire training facility on school property.
If there aren’t, the fire chiefs want to have an engineer conduct a site survey.
“That would let us know where the building footprint could be,” Tremont Fire Chief Keith Higgins said. “We also want to leave enough buffering so that it’s appealing and doesn’t stick out, and maybe some of the wetlands could function as the buffering.”
Southwest Harbor Deputy Fire Chief Jack Martel and Bar Harbor Fire Captain John Sanders also attended the high school trustees meeting.
High school Principal Matt Haney said that if there is room to include a classroom building as part of the fire training facility, it could be of benefit to students.
“There are an awful lot of students who are interested in pursuing fire science,” he said.
Noting that Hancock County Technical Center in Ellsworth offers some programs at satellite locations, Haney said, “I could see this (fire training facility) becoming a satellite site so kids from all over the county could come here and learn how to be a firefighter. But I don’t know if that would work without a classroom.”
Whenever there is a serious fire anywhere on Mount Desert Island, all of the island’s fire departments respond. To ensure that they work together effectively, the chiefs say they need to train together. But that is currently difficult.
The nearest facility where firefighters can practice fighting interior structure fires and rescues is in Ellsworth. If members of all four MDI fire departments were to go to Ellsworth to train at the same time, the island’s homes and businesses would be left without optimum fire protection.
For that reason, the chiefs say they need a training facility somewhere on MDI, and the more centrally located the better. They say that such a facility also would aid in the recruitment and retention of firefighters.
Elected officials in the four MDI towns have expressed support for a fire training facility on the island. But the cost of such a facility has not yet been determined, and officials have not discussed what share of the cost each town would pay.
If the high school property is deemed suitable, Bender said access to it would be from Route 233 rather than from the high school entrance drive.
“Hopefully, that would alleviate any traffic concerns,” he said.
Building a driveway off of Route 233 would require approval from the state Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Protection, the chiefs said.