2016-06-24 / In the Know

Student fire intern program receives recognition

By B. Michael Thurlow Special to the Leader


Matt Sturgis, president of Greater Portland Council of Governments, presents awards to Chief Michael Thurlow, Scarborough Fire Department; Executive board members: Professor Steve Willis, Southern Maine Community College; Chief Nate Schools, Buxton Fire; Deputy Chief Glen Deering, Scarborough Fire; and Chief Michael Robitaille, Yarmouth Fire. (Courtesy photo) Matt Sturgis, president of Greater Portland Council of Governments, presents awards to Chief Michael Thurlow, Scarborough Fire Department; Executive board members: Professor Steve Willis, Southern Maine Community College; Chief Nate Schools, Buxton Fire; Deputy Chief Glen Deering, Scarborough Fire; and Chief Michael Robitaille, Yarmouth Fire. (Courtesy photo) Last week the Student Firefighter Live-in Coalition was recognized by the Greater Portland Council of Governments, a local collaborative group that is owned by and works for the various municipalities in the area.

GPCOG’s staff works on a wide variety of initiatives designed to save local governments money through joint bidding processes for materials and services, regional planning, and many other collaborative efforts.

Each year GPCOG solicits nominations for a variety of awards that are presented at their annual meeting to showcase best practices and highlight creative ideas and programs that member communities have developed in hopes that it sparks others to consider implementing similar programs with the goal of saving taxpayer money and making municipal government more efficient.

The Student Firefighter Live-in Coalition was formed 27 years ago in 1989 when the Scarborough and Gorham fire departments first partnered with Southern Maine Community College to create it as a means to recruit and retain volunteer firefighters.

Over the years this program has grown to include 15 additional communities across southern Maine: Windham, Standish, Buxton, Raymond, Waterboro, Yarmouth, Alfred, Cumberland, Topsham, Gray, Falmouth, Goodwin’s Mills, New Gloucester, North Yarmouth and Kennebunk.

Annually the coalition partner departments host over 90 students who become members of the departments and live in the fire stations in lieu of a dorm room at SMCC.

They are trained and respond to emergencies providing critical, cost-effective manpower to the municipalities they serve.

The students’ first priority is their education and the departments provide mentoring, tutoring, and a variety of support to assure the success of the program, while benefiting from a staff presence in their stations and manpower available for emergency response.

In a five-year study completed in 2010, SMCC found that live-in students participating in our program were more than four times more successful in meeting Fire Science AAS graduation requirements than non-live-in students. Live-in graduates are also selected for career positions at much higher rates than non-live-ins.

Each spring SMCC accepts applications for incoming students who are interested in participating in this internship.

The candidates fill out applications, create resumes, and participate in a formal interview process which is all part of their educational experience. Following the interviews the 17 departments in the program go through a selection process similar to the NFL draft. Candidates are selected in a rotation so each department gets a fair shot.

In this year’s draft a total of 39 new first year students were selected into the program.

They arrived at SMCC this week for an orientation and received textbooks to start a self-study process for their firefighter certification over the summer.

During the second week of August they will move into their host departments and build upon the self-study work they completed with a three-week intensive hands-on firefighting academy which concludes just before their college classes start this fall.

The live-in student program has proven to be a great feeder program for the Scarborough Fire Department as several of the more than 200 former graduates of our program are now full-time employees on fire apparatus, in dispatch, staffing ambulances, and in leadership roles within our department and many others all across New England and beyond.

We very much appreciate GPCOG’s recognition of this important and very effective program. It’s just another example of the outstanding cooperative efforts that exist within the fire and EMS service along with our partners at Southern Maine Community College.

If you have any questions about this article or any fire department issue you may contact me at mthurl@ci.scarborough.me.us or 730-4201.

B. Michael Thurlow is fire chief for Scarborough.

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