Fire officials see shortage of firefighters

AROOSTOOK COUNTY, Maine - Aroostook County is having a difficult time getting enough firefighters to serve the needs of communities. Kathy McCarty met with fire officials who say training is just one of the hurdles facing those wanting to volunteer.

Distance isn't just a problem when firefighters are trying to get to a fire, it also creates difficulties for those seeking training. The closest fire academy in Maine is in Brunswick, making it hard for volunteers to meet requirements.

"They can't take a week off to go down and do training. So we're very fortunate we have two or three instructors at the state level right here in our department, as well as Rich Wark from Mapleton and some others - Darren Woods out of North Lakes and Adam Rider who's here. And we're able to do these trainings, and we're able to work them around the volunteer's schedule, so they're either nights or weekends, allowing them to do it. Because if it wasn't for that, it would be almost next to impossible to get 'em trained."

Firefighters recently completed their second weekend of training for Firefighter 1 and 2 certification, held at the Presque Isle Fire Department. Participants from all over The County commit to about 6 months of training, including in-class assignments, workbooks and homework. But class sizes are decreasing.

"We are in a huge shortage, not just here in Maine, across the country this is a huge, critical problem that I don't think is really being addressed. You're gonna see some fire departments that are gonna start hiring full-time people during the day, during the week, for those coverages."

Employers in the community are struggling to do more with fewer staff, putting a pinch in the number of people able to volunteer as firefighters - a change from years gone by.

"Most of the employers would let their employees leave. But employers are under the same constraints that we are now. They have less people and more work to do, so very - very few employers will let their employees leave for a fire."

In Ashland, firefighters train on a monthly basis in order to stay up on all the needed certifications.

"You've got to keep up with the training. I think that's part of why it's so hard to get firefighters or people to join the fire service. It takes a lot of time to get trained the proper way so nobody gets hurt."

For information on becoming a firefighter, contact your local fire department or town office.