Men and women whose call it is to serve others as firefighters and emergency medical service and rescue personnel are descending on McDowell County over the next few days for training at the largest Fire, Rescue and EMS college in North Carolina.

The 42nd Annual McDowell Fire, Rescue and EMS College will take place throughout McDowell and at one site in Chimney Rock through this coming Sunday.

Approximately 1,050 students are registered for this year’s training from cities and towns throughout the state and region according to Brad Ledbetter, who came out of retirement to continue managing the program for McDowell Technical Community College and related partners. Ledbetter retired last summer as Director of Continuing Education at MTCC. This is his 35th year directing the Fire, Rescue and EMS College, which started in 1977. The number of students this year is consistent with last year’s numbers, although additional students may register on-site during the weekend.

About 75 percent of the students who attend the program are from the western end of the state, west of I-77, with the remaining folks hailing from all over the state, from Kitty Hawk to Murphy, at both ends of the state. Several additional folks who work in North Carolina but live in states adjacent to North Carolina have also registered for classes.

“Those 1,100 or so people who attend this weekend’s training are also staying in our hotels, shopping in our stores during the evening, eating in our restaurants and generally adding to the local economy and sales tax,” said MTCC President John Gossett.” And sometimes they bring spouses, who do even more shopping while they are here. We do this as a service to the fire, rescue and EMS community, but it is nice to know that we also promote our economy in the process.”

Two new classes have been added to this year’s agenda: Technical Rescuer Water Rescue and Chaplaincy for Emergency Responders.

“The TR Water Rescue is a grueling class that actually started today ahead of many other classes and will meet four days for 12 hours each day at sites all over the county from the YMCA swimming pool to Lake James, including special training at the spillway dam,” said Ledbetter. “This was one of our most popular courses this year and the first to fill with students,” he said. Travis Scruggs, who hails from the Franklin area, will teach the class.

Increasingly, emergency personnel also recognize the need to train folks to deal with the spiritual and religious issues that affect victims in various emergency and crisis situations. To that end, the Chaplaincy class was designed to give folks basic training in this area.

“We have something for almost everyone who wants training in this field,” said Gossett. “Even our high school students who take classes in emergency medical services and firefighting are taking classes this weekend. The Mass Casualty Incident class is one of the popular classes for these students. They get to walk through proper response techniques in various situations where there are multiple victims, such as a school shooting. It couldn’t be more apropos than it is today, given recurring incidents of this sort around the country.”

“In total, we are running about 75 classes this year after we weed out the classes that didn’t make,” said Ledbetter.

Approximately 130 instructors, many of whom are experts in their field, will teach classes in basic fire and rescue techniques, as well as advanced classes in subjects like arson investigation, clandestine drug labs, and flammable liquids. These classes generally fall into three basic categories: rescue (such as land search, rappelling, vehicle rescue, and vehicle extrication), emergency medical services (including aeromedicine) and firefighting (such as pumps, positive pressure ventilation, confined space, flammable liquids, ladders, forcible entry, ventilation, structural firefighting and liquid propane gas).

A small number of classes began on the McDowell Tech campus Thursday morning, with additional classes scheduled for Friday morning and evening (7-10 p.m.), Saturday (9 a.m.-5 p.m.) and Sunday (starting at 8 a.m.)

While the lion’s share of these classes will take place at McDowell High School and McDowell Tech, there are a number of other training locations throughout McDowell County, including Sugar Hill Road, where student will take Driver training for Fire Engines below Murphy Oil at the site of the old Sugar Hill Truck Stop. Others will take place at Glenwood Elementary School, the Fire Training Grounds on Old Greenlee Road and at T & D Wrecker Service on Old Hwy. 10. The class for rescuers who are dealing with rock climbing rescues will take place in Chimney Rock.

“Our live-burn classes will also take place on Saturday on East Court Street next to City Tire,” said Ledbetter. “We encourage local folks who may be travelling this road on Saturday to be safe and use caution as they pass the burn area. We also ask them to remember that this area needs to remain open and clear for emergency traffic, should there be a need for that.”

Additional live burn classes will be held at the Fire Training Grounds on Old Greenlee Road. These include classes on liquid propane (LP) gas fires, flammable liquid fires, and more general classes related to structural fire ventilation and live-burn simulations.

In addition to classroom activities and hands-on training, fire and rescue personnel will be able to purchase items from approximately 50 vendors selling everything from fire and rescue equipment to t-shirts and flashlights. Vendor displays will be in the commons, gymnasium and outdoor areas at McDowell High School, where many of the classroom activities will also take place.

The Fire, Rescue and EMS College is co-sponsored by MTCC and the McDowell County Fire and Rescue Association, with assistance from the McDowell County Emergency Management Agency, the McDowell County Fire Commission, local fire departments and the McDowell County Rescue Association.

For further information or clarification on this release, contact Michael Lavender, MTCC Director of External Relations, at 828-803-9071 or Brad Ledbetter at 828-442-7856.

Get today’s top stories right in your inbox. Sign up for our daily newsletter.