ESSC launches firefighter program to address rural shortage

Participants in the firefighter training program at ESSC. (GF)

Tashi Farmilo
Local Journalism Initiative

MANSFIELD – In a unique effort to address shortages of firefighters in rural areas, Ecole secondaire Sieur-de-Coulonge (ESSC) in Mansfield has introduced a Firefighter 1 training program for high school students. The initiative, spearheaded by local officials and educators, aims to equip youth with essential firefighting skills and foster community involvement.

The inspiration for the program, according to Julien Gagnon, MRC Pontiac Public Safety Coordinator, came from a pilot project at École secondaire du Plateau in La Malbaie in 2019. “We realized the urgent need to encourage youth to get involved in their communities,” Gagnon said, emphasizing the program’s dual objective: to mitigate firefighter shortages and open career pathways for students. The program at ESSC is the first of it’s kind in the province and the first to receive funding from the Ministry of Public Security.

The training program aligns with the curriculum of the École nationale des pompiers du Québec. Over two years, students gain hands-on experience and knowledge in various firefighting techniques and strategies. “Students learn the same skills and techniques as real firefighters,” Gagnon noted, outlining the comprehensive nature of the program, which includes classroom learning, practical exercises and home readings.

Despite initial challenges integrating the training into the school’s schedule, the program has successfully taken off. Gabie Paré, ESSC vice-principal, played a pivotal role in getting the training recognized as a school project. The program also received substantial support from the Ministry of Public Safety and the Municipality of Mansfield.

Gagnon is optimistic about the program’s impact on the community. He explained students can join their respective fire departments after their first exam, contributing to local emergency response efforts without disrupting their education. “This is a step towards ensuring that after their higher education, they’ll come back to Pontiac,” Gagnon added.

Plans for the future include expanding the program to include training in English and establishing cohorts every two years in different schools. The enthusiastic response from students has been a highlight of the initiative.