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The need for first responders in Maine isn't going away

Here in Maine and across the country, postings for police and fire jobs are all over the internet -- but why?

BANGOR, Maine — A simple Google search will pull up first responder jobs from Buxton to Fort Kent -- but no one seems to know why.

"Newer people considering getting into the field are really weighing the benefits of getting into police work, especially for a career, versus the compensation," Bangor Police Sgt. Wade Betters said. "Years ago, there were three hundred people for one or two jobs. Now, we're lucky if we get seven or eight qualified applicants for several openings."

The City of Bangor has multiple officer openings, and officials are doing their best to recruit qualified candidates

Betters says becoming a police officer is a lot of work. After recruiters find qualified applicants, those applicants have to sit before an oral board, pass a polygraph, pass an extensive background check, pass a fitness test, go through the police academy, and then participate in additional training with their new department.

"So just to get hired is an uphill climb," Betters said.

It takes about a year to fully on-board an officer. And with overtime and other things, some officers burn out and leave the police force.

"Not a lot of people are as interested in going to the biggest and busiest departments anymore," Betters said. "Mostly, in my opinion, because a lot of the smaller departments offer the same compensation."

Being a police officer is a lot of work -- and with a lot of work, comes a lot of responsibility. It's sometimes a responsibility that some don't want.

"What could start out being a simple traffic stop could have a huge impact on someone's life," Officer Duncan Bowie said.

Fire departments are no different.

"The vacancies aren't the problem. The small application pool is what's the problem for us," Bangor Fire Chief Tom Higgins said. "I think that there are more careers offered today than there were years ago."

Higgins says things have changed from the days of people leaving farms and wanting to pick up a career like firefighting.

Now, there's technology and other career paths. Not only that, but the unemployment rate is low, which means fewer people are even looking for jobs.

And some of those who are looking are students -- not all of which are interested in working for local agencies. They want to go federal.

Husson University fifth-year student Jenny Cobb is currently interning with the United States Department of Homeland Security.

"I get to help fill out evidence. I get to look through evidence. I mean, that's a lot of people's dreams in the (criminal justice) program to be able to just do that while you're in school," she said.

Cobb has been approached by local agencies.

"There's a few that really wanted me to apply for local. Unfortunately, local is not really where I'm thinking about right now," she said.

And one of her professors, John Michaud, says students have options.

"So it's not that they don't want to be first responders. It's that they have the opportunity to be first responders where they want to be," he said.

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