After years of very slow progress, plans to construct a “burn building” for training firefighters on land near Mount Desert Island High School appeared to be gaining momentum. All four MDI towns expressed support for the project in earlier stages, but selectmen in Southwest Harbor and town councilors in Bar Harbor were wary last month when presented with a budget for surveying and design costs.
A similar facility already exists in Ellsworth. That facility is available on a fee-for-use basis to all area departments; the fees help offset its operating costs.
With moves toward cooperation and consolidation in other public services, some will likely argue that the existing Ellsworth facility is sufficient, that if firefighters are used to driving to Ellsworth to go to Walmart, or to Denny’s after a late night fire, what’s one more trip?
The fire chiefs in our towns are not in the habit of asking for resources they don’t need to run their departments. They are to be believed when they say current and prospective volunteers in their department would prefer not to make the 30-minute-plus drive in their already busy schedules. Further, the high school administration looks forward to collaborating with the departments on education programs. Several recent MDI graduates are working in public safety here and at least one Senior Exhibition project has focused on fire science. Fire training can start in high school even for those who hope to pursue other careers and wish to serve as volunteers.
That said, the new training facility should be no-frills. A burn building and a parking lot are what’s needed; it doesn’t make sense to build a new, dedicated classroom building that needs heat, light and maintenance when there are dozens of classrooms a stone’s throw away in the high school. The existing classrooms are available during the evening and weekend hours when training is most likely to be held.