20 Tough Questions sidebar: Fire Department Partners with School District To Teach Firefighting to High School Students

Portland, ME, high school students are donning firefighter gear and receiving hands-on experience in searching a smoky building for victims as part of a new firefighting course offered in partnership with the Portland Fire Department.

After some practice runs to build competency and confidence, the instructors use theatrical smoke to create the obscured visibility conditions frequently encountered in a fire, said Portland Fire Department Captain Philip McGouldrick, who is working with Portland High School teacher Rocco Frenzilli on the course. This provides the students with a realistic atmosphere to continue to build their comfort. As the students acclimate to the conditions, they work on how to search a building to locate victims.

The full-year course, based on industry standards, is designed to help students prepare for a career in firefighting and public safety service. Portland Fire Chief Jerome LaMoria said, “We’re excited to work with the school department and give these students an exposure to firefighting as a career with the hope that some will choose it as a career path.”

The class is made up of 11 sophomores, juniors and seniors from Portland and Deering high schools. Students wear protective boots, pants, coats and helmets and train in the use of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).

The “Introduction to Firefighting Fundamentals” course is part of the “Pathways to Success” initiative that is remodeling the Portland Public Schools for the needs and demands of 21st century life. Students at all of the city’s public high schools explore potential careers through academic classes, job shadowing, internships and community partnerships.