MEXICO — Nine high school students from the River Valley learned firefighting skills Friday at the Region 9 School of Applied Technology.

Rumford fire Chief Bob Chase, who helped the class and offered advice, said the course, now in its third year, is very much needed in Western Maine. He said it’s a great way to help fire departments recruit and retain trained firefighters.

“It’s no secret the challenges we’ve been having with recruitment and retention,” Chase said. “We have to generate the spark for firefighting with individuals when they’re young and before the challenges of life get a hold of them, and that’s exactly what (this course) is doing.”

Students learned how to rapidly roll out sections of fire hose, couple them together as water flowed through, attach a nozzle at the end, aim the water at a traffic cone and knock it over as fast as possible.

That is one of many muster skills they will undertake this year with the first competition Tuesday, Sept. 16, in Farmington and another Sunday, Sept. 28, at the Fryeburg Fair.

All are students of the yearlong fire science class taught by Jon Longley. He has 26 years of experience in the fire service and 22 years of teaching experience in public education.

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“We’re practicing some muster skills to show off our skills that we learned during the first couple of weeks at school,” Longley said.

First-year fire science students at Region 9 have to go through the Firefighting 101 and 102 program, which is a more than 240-hour class.

“So they’re learning all the essential skills to become a credentialed firefighter,” he said. “This is more of a traditional activity that goes back many, many generations, and it gets them used to handling hose and water nozzles and the works.”

On Friday, the students were working on wet- and dry-hose competition. Longley said the students must work together in team companies or groups.

“They work with coupling hoses, flowing water, hitting the target, and trying to do it in the fastest and safest manner as possible,” he said.

The students are Kenzie Lord of Peru, Colin Woodhead of Canton, Cameron Shaw of Byron, Braidan Doucette of Rumford, Nisrina Hamdi of Andover, Margarite Bergeron of Bethel, Jonathan LaBelle of Sumner, Kyle Jassud of Dixfield and Mercedes Letourneau of Greenwood.

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Assisting Longley was second-year fire science student Jeff Burt of Rumford. Burt is a senior at Mountain Valley High School in Rumford and is on the Rumford, Roxbury and Andover fire departments.

“I made it through the first year and now I have the opportunity to come and help work with the current year one students,” Burt said.

Several of the students are junior firefighters with River Valley area departments.

Lord is a junior at Dirigo High School in Dixfield and on the Peru Fire Department; Woodhead is a sophomore at Dirigo High School in Dixfield and on the Canton Fire Department.

Shaw is a sophomore at Mountain Valley High School in Rumford and on the Rumford and Roxbury fire departments; Hamdi is a senior at Telstar Regional High School in Bethel and with the Andover Fire Department.

Bergeron is a sophomore at Telstar Regional High School in Bethel and trying to get on the Greenwood Fire Department; LaBelle is a junior at Dirigo High School and on the West Paris Fire Department.

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Doucette is a sophomore at Dirigo High School; Jassud is a sophomore at Dirigo and on the Dixfield Fire Co.; and Letourneau is a sophomore at Telstar and on the Greenwood Fire Department.

Bergeron said she likes the class because “it’s fun and productive and you learn a lot of great stuff in this class.”

Jassud said he likes the class because it’s taught outdoors “and we get to learn a lot of good stuff.”

“We’ve got a real good group of kids and we all get along,” Shaw said.

Hamdi said she also likes the fact that they get to learn and practice skills outdoors.

Chief Chase’s department already has junior firefighters and others from the program who have since transitioned to the call force.

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As junior firefighters serving with fire departments in or near their homes, the students also get to train with those departments at night and in drills.

Training and undertaking the time-consuming Firefighting 101 and 102 programs is very hard to undertake once people get into life and get a job, Chase said.

“Them coming on to our call force already having it, that’s a huge benefit for us,” he said.

Chase said Longley “is doing an awesome job getting the kids interested.”

“This is some playing around,” he said of the muster training, “but it’s also fun, and they’re building skills, and getting that spark in them when they’re young is what’s going to let us have firefighters in the future. It’s going to be huge.”

Chase said that was one of the motivating factors when officials with area departments went to Region 9 to get such a program started.

“It’s helping our numbers and we hope it continues and just grows from there,” he said. “It’s a big thing for us, and we’re happy to support it, and he does a great job with the kids.”

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