Firemen's Muster draws pros and students to fair

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FARMINGTON — Firefighters from seven towns and two vocational schools donned turnout gear, dragged hoses and ran a bucket relay in record time at the annual Firemen’s Muster at Farmington Fair on Tuesday evening.

The Rangeley Fire Department took top honors for overall performance, but with timed results differing by only a second or more, participants agreed all teams were winners.

Jon Longley, director of the firefighter training program at Mexico-based Region 9 School of Applied Technology, brought two teams of students and John Churchill, director of the Farmington-based Foster Career and Technical Education Center, brought one team of students.

Many had just started their school training in September, so this was their first chance to compete with others. Alumni also joined the exercises, happy to renew their connections with former classmates.

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“I’m bringing four first-year students, and the rest are alumni,” Longley said.

Alex Greenleaf graduated from Longley’s class in 2015 and has national certification accepted by any fire department in the country.

Students who meet the National Fire Protection Association’s standards for professional qualifications of firefighters have to pass rigorous exams. Training includes methods for dealing with both structure and car fires. Students learn in a combination of classroom, fitness training and hands-on experience, using professional firefighting tools and equipment.

They must pass Maine’s firefighter written certification exam at the end of the course. Students have to be in shape to be able to set up and climb ladders over 30 feet, chop holes in roofs, drag heavy fire hoses and wear an air pack, Greenleaf explained.

Savannah Swett Cole and her brother Chance Swett both graduated from Churchill’s course and work as firefighters. Savannah lives in Orland and is the chairman of the monthly fire department meetings. Chance has a hoof-trimming business in East Dixfield. Both jumped at the chance to support their local alumni teams and their mother, Suzanne, cheered them on from the sidelines.

Many of the participants’ family members have been part of their local departments for generations and many of the competitors have the same last name. Young people may have had a father and a grandfather who served their local towns.

Today’s volunteer departments struggle, Churchill noted, because fewer young people are willing to volunteer. Many move away or work far from their local fire stations. Instead, students and adult firefighters may find themselves working together when they respond to a mutual aid call in one of their towns.

Many of the two districts’ former students have continued with their education and pursued careers in the field. Delani Littlefield is a good example of a student who has excelled, Churchill said. Besides being a positive and energetic person, she pursues excellence in her work, he said.

“She’s a paramedic, does some adjunct teaching for Southern Maine Community College, and she’s the fire prevention and juvenile safety officer for the city of Portland,” he said. “She’s also a full-time firefighter.”

Students in the Foster Career and Technical Education Center’s firefighting course in Farmington participate in the Firemen’s Muster at the Farmington Fair on Tuesday night. Others from the Region 9 School of Applied Technology in Mexico and alumni from both programs competed.

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