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YARMOUTH, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The start of a new school year may be just around the corner, but thirty-five students enrolled in an intensive three week fire academy are already knee-deep in learning.

"It is fast paced. It is practical skills, learning skills, practicing, repetition," explained Falmouth Fire Chief Howard Rice.

Chief Rice coordinates the training for the students enrolled in Southern Maine Community College's Student Live-In program. Seventeen fire departments in southern Maine invite full-time college students to live in their fire stations - immersing the students in the triumphs and tribulations of life in a fire house while providing the departments with additional manpower to help out during emergencies.

"Our goal is to train them enough so at their stations, when the call comes in, then they can be an active member of a fire fighting crew," said Rice.

The students are mainly freshmen & sophomores enrolled in the Fire Science program at SMCC. During the three week academy, they get hands-on instruction on everything from fire suppression to hazmat situations. The learning doesn't end when the school day does, as these students also help out with emergency calls.

"We all want to be here. We all signed up for it because this is what we want to do with our lives," exclaimed Nick Bue, a student from Nashua, New Hampshire. "You start learning stuff right on the first couple days you've been up there, and you start going on calls in the first couple of days."

"At first, it was a little bit daunting," admitted John Davis, a student from Derry, New Hampshire. "From doing the academy and doing the training, I have finally got some sort of idea. It has been a learning curve, but I have gotten a handle on it."

The student live in program benefits the communities, as well as the students, by providing trained fire fighters that help supplement the ranks of departments. Many fire departments in Maine, and nationwide, are struggling with staffing due to a lack of volunteer and call members.

"We learn a lot in these three weeks, and it is something where we continually keep on learning," said Bue. "You learn on the job and off the job. It is something where you never stop learning."

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