Stanly County Airport will host state emergency training center

[L-R] Chief Fire Marshal Brian Taylor, N.C. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, Col. Michael Gerock, and Chief Master Sgt. Daryl Cook announce the N.C. Emergency Training Center in Stanly County. | Chris Lentz for the Stanly County Journal

NEW LONDON — On Thursday, North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey and North Carolina Air National Guard Col. Michael “Troy” Gerock announced a new partnership between the Guard and the Office of State Fire Marshal to establish a state emergency training center at the Stanly County Airport. It will be just the second such facility of its kind in the nation.

“Wherever I go in the state to visit fire departments they are struggling to get and retain firefighters” Causey said. “This is a win-win situation for everyone involved.”

The Stanly County Airport’s Air National Guard facility was chosen as the site for the new emergency training center for several reasons. It has a burn building, confined space, trench rescue and a structural collapse training facility needed for this type of specialized training.

N.C. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey and Col. Michael Gerock sign a memorandum of understanding establishing the emergency training center. | Chris Lentz for the Stanly County Journal

It is also centrally located and sits near various types of terrain needed for training — lakes, the Rocky River, Morrow Mountain State Park and the Uwharrie National Forest. A FEMA warehouse is also nearby and the site is close to the state’s largest city, Charlotte.

“At the end of the day, this is where we want to be,” Gerock said. “There is no better place for this in the state of North Carolina. This is a big deal.”

State Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly), who supports the partnership, insists the Stanly County Airport makes sense both geographically and economically. The Airport’s National Guard Facility will allow the Office of State Fire Marshall to create its emergency training center with no up-front costs. The N.C. Air National Guard will provide maintenance and custodial services for the facility and pay for the utilities while the Office of State Fire Marshal will provide a facility manager, schedule fire training, supervise fire training exercises, provide courses at the site at no cost to Air National Guard Fire Department, and be responsible for cleanup after each use.

Burr said he is “excited about opportunities the partnership will provide” and that “the potential to expand the footprint of the Air National Guard is always a good thing.”

Causey said he will continue to push for programs to get more youth interested in fire and emergency services, citing difficulties many volunteer fire departments have recruiting and retaining members.

A goal of the program, and the new N.C. Emergency Training Center, is to help encourage more youth to enter fire and emergency services. The facility will benefit the Tarheel Challenge Academy in New London by providing vocational and technical training for academy students. The Tarheel Challenge program is a N.C. National Guard 22-week quasi-military residential program for 16- to 18-year-olds who have either dropped out or are at risk of dropping out of high school. Following graduation, the academy provides a 12-month period of placement and monitoring to help the youth adjust to career paths.

Organizers say rural fire and rescue departments will find it is more economical to send members to the emergency training center than to hotels. The training center can house and feed personnel for just $30 a day. It has 167 beds, an on-site cafeteria and seven classrooms.

North Carolina has approximately 52,000 firefighters. Approximately 14,000 of them are career firefighters. The rest are volunteers.

“This new emergency training center offers many opportunities for our state,” Causey said. “It will spark economic growth to the region as well as provide specialized training for our emergency responders to keep our residents better protected.”