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The strongest bonds are the ones that are forged in times of adversity. It’s no wonder then that the Fire and Rescue professionals of Greater Portland, Maine have such strong relationships with their fellow firefighters—including ones who work over 4,000 miles away in Greater Portland’s sister city: Arkhangelsk (Archangel), Russia.
Recently, a team of six Russian firefighters from Archangel, including a Fire Prevention Specialist, a Psychologist for Rescue Service, and two 15 year old rescue cadets studying rescue services visited their counterparts in sister city Greater Portland for a week and a half to attend the annual Maine Fire Chiefs Conference. There, they learned and shared about best practices and strategies in the firefighting and emergency response field.
The visit was one of many Fire and Rescue professional exchanges between the two communities. The exchange program, now referred to as “Project Brotherhood,” started with a grant from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in 2015. Because of its significant success, it is now supported by private funds. “It has really put our area emergency services idea sharing on a global platform” said James Butler, a Project Brotherhood program organizer and captain at the Scarborough Fire Department.
At the conference, firefighters from both cities presented on past exchanges to share what they learned abroad and what new knowledge they were able to bring to their overseas counterparts. Overall, Greater Portland firefighters felt that Archangel firefighters had a lot to teach them about better psychological care and treatment for fire and rescue professionals, as well as better fire safety education in schools. The Archangel firefighters learned a lot from their Greater Portland counterparts about better HAZMAT response, restricted space/upper floor rescue of persons, strategies for better building codes and inspections, and more.
Through several exchanges back and forth, fire and rescue teams from both cities learned a lot about preventative and protective strategies that save lives, but they have also learned that they have a lot in common with each other as people. “What we realized immediately was that these firefighters were really just like us” said Chief Andrew Turcotte of the Westbrook Fire Department. Though there was a language barrier, members from both delegations used their iPhones to feverishly translate conversations and questions back and forth about each other’s lives. “The fire department family reaches far past American soil—it extends around the world” said Nathaniel Contreras of Scarborough Fire Department.
It’s clear that the bonds forged over these many exchanges have become deep and life-lasting. Captain Chris Goodall of the Portland Fire Department shared words on the significance of the program and the origins of its name:
“We refer to the community of firefighters as a “brotherhood” (which includes our firefighting sisters as well). The trip demonstrated to me that the brotherhood does not recognize national boundaries. My brother and sister firefighters in Russia mean as much to me as my compatriots here. We built friendships and bonds that will last forever.”
These bonds will only continue to strengthen as the exchanges continue. There are already several more exchanges planned: at the end of May a delegation from Russia is coming for a week, and in June the program hopes to send more Greater Portland Firefighters to Arkhangelsk.
To learn more about Portland’s sister cities, visit PortlandMaine.gov.
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All photos courtesy of the Archangel Committee.