On-Call Firefighters Needed in Calais Area

By Lura Jackson

 

It takes a lot of components to keep safety services in place – but none are as important as the people involved. In Calais, demand is high and ongoing for community members that are willing and able to become on-call firefighters, positions that offer pay as well as personal satisfaction, Fire Chief Ken Clark shares.

The Calais Fire-EMS Department maintains a roster of full-time employees as well as a list of on-call firefighters, Clark explained. On-call firefighters begin their training by attending a fire school for 78 hours, at which point they will receive a completion certificate from the Department of Labor. From there, on-call firefighters are expected to complete 24 hours of training a year to meet state standards, and any other additional trainings – such as for EMS techniques – that the department requires. The department pays the prospective firefighter for all of their training hours. Once on the on-call roster, they will receive payment for any call they respond to on behalf of the department.

A fire school is now being held at the Calais station, along with one in Addison. Both schools have approximately 20 trainees in attendance, Clark shared. Classes are anticipated to continue in both locations.

Unlike other fire departments, Calais also manages the town’s EMS response. As such, all incoming firefighters are given additional paid training so they can provide medical attention if needed on-scene. All-in-all, on-call firefighters in the Calais department average four hours of training a month.

Asked how many on-call firefighters he’d like to recruit, Clark responded, only half in jest: “When I have a fire, I’d like to have 15 to 20 firefighters. Sometimes 25 to 30.” The need for more responders is constant and ongoing, Clark said.

Being able to respond to a fire or emergency in the daytime is particularly important. “If we didn’t have our full-time employees right now, our daytime response would be minimal. That’s why I’m looking for people who live in town and can respond during the daytime,” Clark said. Ideally, prospective on-call firefighters will live within 15 minutes of the department to ensure a fast response. As such, having reliable transportation is highly recommended.

Those who are interested in moving beyond the basic training provided at the fire school can enroll in Firefighter I and II classes, representing a total of up to 375 hours of additional training. At that point, they will be nationally certified and able to apply to work as a firefighter in any department in the nation.

As someone that has been a part of the Calais Fire Department for 40 years, Clark says there have been many changes since he started. Safety equipment for firefighters once amounted to rubber boats, a rubber coat, and a 15-minute air supply; today, firefighters wear flame resistant Kevlar with inner liners and barriers to protect from vapors and steams, hoods, and a 30-minute air tank.

While safety equipment has improved over time, the risks have also evolved. The chemicals now used in home furnishings to retard flame development are toxic and carcinogenic, contributing to a 68 percent higher rate of cancer in firefighters than in the rest of the population, according to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network. To mitigate the risk, new training and equipment protocols have been deployed.

Becoming a firefighter is not an easy task, but Chief Clark asserts it can be incredibly worthwhile. “Being able to help people is the biggest thing,” Clark said, speaking on what he sees as the driving motivator for himself and those he works with. “We do whatever we can to help people.” Aside from saving lives, Clark said there is additional satisfaction in helping to preserve property when possible.

The Calais Fire-EMS Department does more than respond to emergencies. In many ways, it functions as a community organization, conducting Easter egg hunts, haunted houses, Christmas parties, and more for area children. It also holds events throughout the week during Fire Prevention week, and it hosts Boy Scouts and other groups regularly to encourage familiarity with the crew and the equipment.

Reaching the youth is particularly important as most of Clark’s roster is over 40 years old at this point. “We really need them to step up,” Clark said.

Among the youths that have stepped up recently is Kyle Bailey. Bailey, 19, earned his Firefighter I and II at St. Croix Regional Technical Center before joining the on-call roster at the Calais Department. “There’s no place I’d rather be,” Bailey said of the department. But, he says, more hands on deck are definitely needed. “Nobody knows how badly we need people.”

If you are interested in learning more about becoming a firefighter with the Calais Fire Department, now or in the future, contact Chief Clark at 454-7400. If you live in another community but are still interested in serving its safety needs, Clark encourages you to contact your local chief.