For some graduating seniors in the class of 2005, a college education at Plymouth State University included not only tests, papers and class discussions but fast rides in a fire engine, overnight stays at the Plymouth fire station and many late-night pager calls.
Bobbi Jo Adams, an accounting major from Lisbon; Ben Chaffee, a biology major from Langdon; Joe Baumann, a psychology major from Shrewsbury, Mass.; John Polese, a chemistry major from South Salem, N.Y.; Thomas Beaumont, a chemistry major from Antrim and Andy Viger, a management major from Pelham, have been volunteer firefighters with the Plymouth Fire Department for several years. During their time at PSU, these students spent many days and nights helping the department’s full-time firefighters respond to blazes and other emergencies.
The work was exciting and challenging and the camaraderie within the department was strong. For some students, the fire house was like a second home where they spent many hours each week, playing basketball with the full-time staff, eating meals together and cleaning up the trucks and the station.
Each of the students remembers their first middle-of-the-night call. Some students, including Adams, helped put out a fire above a Main Street pizza parlor last year. The experience of fighting a structure fire is unforgettable.
“You’re too excited to be scared,” said Polese.
Most of the students were inspired to join the department by talking to friends and family members who were firefighters. Some students volunteered at fire departments in their hometowns before coming to PSU. Once they began working at the Plymouth department, the students received training both in Plymouth and at the state’s Fire Academy in Concord. Some took EMT training classes as well. The students will receive academic credits for these training experiences.
Some students found other ways to incorporate their firefighting experience into their academic work at PSU. Baumann, a psychology major, completed an independent study examining the work of on-call EMTs.
For the Plymouth Fire Department, the student firefighters are crucial. Half of the Plymouth Fire Department’s 30-member part-time call force is comprised of PSU students, said Deputy Chief Tom Morrison. Some, like Chaffee, Baumann, Polese, Beaumont and Adams, have been on the force for two or three years and have enough skills and knowledge to cover a full-time shift. When the students leave campus this summer, the department will feel the loss.
“When they’re gone next week, we’re going to know it,” said Morrison. “They’re good assets. We’re going to miss these guys.”
At Saturday’s graduation ceremony, the graduating students will wear their fire helmets to commemorate their experience at the department.