For 19-year-old Madison “Maddie” Gaudette, going back to school after Labor Day is bittersweet. As well as saying goodbye to her family and friends in Southport and Boothbay, she says goodbye to her colleagues in Southport Fire Department.
Gaudette became a junior member at 16. When she turned 18, she took basic training and became a fully certified firefighter along with her Boothbay Region High School classmate Jake Brewer.
“I’ve helped out at the firehouse my whole life,” Gaudette said. Her father, Stephen Gaudette, is a lifelong firefighter. It’s about more than just fires, she said. “We respond to traffic control situations and car accidents. We’re here for lift assist if the ambulance needs help and we do go to fires, of course. We respond to 12 islands, including Squirrel Island, the Greens, and Boston Island, plus we go out if a boat gets into trouble. We don’t have an official boat but many of the firefighters are lobstermen so we have a plan for everything.”
Because she’s small, her equipment had to be specially sized for her. “It’s not too uncomfortable. More than anything, it’s hot, really hot. The pants aren’t too heavy, there’s a little weight in the shoulders, but otherwise my gear’s just a bit stiff because it’s new. It was crazy when I was training because I had to use a full-sized suit – pants, jacket, and size 12 boots. I got stuck on a ladder twice. You have to put your foot through the rungs and my boot wouldn’t come out. I had to ask the instructor for help!”
When she’s on call, she is alerted by pager and an app. “The app’s nice because it shows a map and who’s responding, and where everything is,” she said. She answers every call if she can and admitted to being excited when she gets a text alert. “I love fire trucks and what we do, and I do get excited,” she said. “I get apprehensive, too, but I know that everyone around me is watching out for me.”
There’s nothing she doesn’t like about it. “I love it all. It’s a really nice feeling being able to give back and help.” Even when she’s not on duty, she would always jump in to help. “I wouldn’t get in the way if there were already responders on the scene. But if I saw an incident I’d do anything to help anyone.”
It seems there was never a time when she wasn’t going to be a firefighter. Everyone on Southport encouraged her to join, she said. “It’s super rewarding. You meet a ton of great people. And I’m learning from people who have all kinds of experience. I miss it when I’m away. I’ll get the alert text when there’s a call and wish I were there. I’ll wait 20 minutes or so and then call my Dad to see what’s going on.”
She hopes to move on with her training. But the next steps require time she just doesn’t have at the moment. Her studies in occupational therapy at Husson University come first. But, she said, “Maybe I’ll find a course somewhere up around Bangor. Then I could do both!”