News Herald

Emergency teams from across the state, country and world have been participating in water rescue exercises at Lake James and along the Catawba River since Saturday.

The exercise allowed emergency responders to hone their skills for flood rescues in conditions comparable to those in previous hurricanes, like Florence and Irma, said Brian Barnes with N.C. Emergency Management.

“Partnerships are key,” Barnes said. “Going to these events and going to trainings, we build relationships with folks across the country and those are the folks that came together with our responders in the state to assist and without them we wouldn’t have been successful.”

Hurricane Florence saw 1,700 responders come to North Carolina to assist with swift-water rescues, Barnes said.

Training will end Wednesday in Burke County. About 500 rescuers will have taken part in the exercise, Barnes said.

Some responders chose to stay overnight at the camp, but others, like rescuers from Charlotte Fire Department, have been driving back to their homes each night.

Charlotte Fire Department Battalion Chief Peter Skeris said sending rescuers home at the end of the day and bringing back new crews each day allowed them to have as many people trained in the exercise as possible.

“The training is invaluable,” Skeris said. “Being able to come out, get in the environment, work with the air assets (and) teams across the state ... it works great.”

Training during the exercise simulates real life emergency situations.

“We’re fortunate enough ... to get some live victims in,” Skeris said. “Even though there are some static points ... the live victim side is good because they actually have to get used to picking people up out of the water.”

McDowell County Emergency Management participated in the planning of the exercise.