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Sanford technical schools looking to help firefighter shortage

Firefighters continue to be scarce nationwide, but the Sanford Fire Department has hired 13 firefighters in two years with the help of a tech school

SANFORD, Maine — There has been a decline in the number of firefighters here in Maine and across the nation for about two decades, but the need for trained firefighters isn't going away.

The Sanford community is working to address this shortage with early training at the Sanford Regional Technical Center.

For the ninth year, the center's fire program is working with the Sanford Fire Department to prepare firefighters to enter the workforce.

"The need for firefighters gets a lot of students hired at least per diem," SFD Capt. Harold Smith said, who is also a fire program instructor at SRTC.

Over the last two years, 13 firefighters have been hired in Sanford, and a third of the students have graduated from this program.

"When I was going to high school, I really wasn't sure what I wanted to do, so pretty much I just saw an advertisement for the program. It was brand new at the time," 2015 program graduate Adam Small said.

Sanford Fire Chief Steve Benotti said this program has been an asset to his department because when the students graduate, they are certified for both firefighter one and two and basic EMT levels.

In Sanford, firefighters can't be hired until they are 20 years old, so they often get more training before coming to work.

"We're seeing people coming better prepared, they're smarter, they're college-educated to a large degree, and coming to us with certifications that we would require anyway," Benotti said.

"Nationwide, we have a shortage of people who can work with their hands, so tech centers like ours are doing a great job at preparing young people to do that," Smith said.

"It basically taught me everything I needed to know to get started in this field, and you can basically walk right into a job," Small said.

While the need for firefighters is still very real for many communities, Benotti hopes to continue to get high school students excited about the industry in Sanford.