SANFORD — Dark smoke billowed from a stone building as firefighters entered to put out the fire. From the third story of another building, a SWAT police officer snatched a kidnap victim, rappelling safely down to the ground with her.
Crowds watched both exciting events — and more — Sept. 10 as the Emergency Services Training Center of Central Carolina Community College hosted an Open House. The purpose was to highlight for the public this unique facility in Sanford that attracts law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical personnel from around the nation, and even from foreign countries, for training.
The ESTC includes an administration/classroom building, live burn building, four-story rescue tower, and the 385-foot N.C. Highway Patrol VIPER radio tower used for tall-tower rescue training.
The Center, built at the former site of the Sanford-Lee County Airport, utilizes the runways for driving, vehicular pursuit, and motorcycle safety training. Its 116 acres provide plenty of room for training scenarios involving large vehicles such as a train tanker car and tractor trailers. Open House visitors saw impressive demonstrations of the use of the facilities, put on by local police and fire departments that train there.
“Having the burn building here helps firefighters tremendously,” Captain Ricky Poole of the Sanford Fire Department said as he watched the smoke pouring from the concrete and steel live burn building. “It allows us to get it hot and dark inside for training. Every burn we have, we learn more.”
Captain Brian Pilkington and firefighter Drew Womble of the Northview Fire Department were lifted onto the building’s roof by an aerial ladder. Their goal was to chop a hole in the roof to vent the smoke to assist the firefighters inside.
“This burn building is a great asset,” said Lt. Matt Owen, of the Northview F.D. “With this, we can practice fighting house and garage fires.”
While the firefighters impressed those watching their feats, another crowd gathered at the four-story rescue tower. Members of the Sanford Police Department’s SWAT team, made up of members of the Selective Enforcement Unit, Community Police, and Patrol Division, wowed the public with demonstrations of rappelling.
Rappeling, the skill of maneuvering quickly and safely on vertical walls, adds a way to enter buildings from the rooftop through windows and other openings to prevent or stop crime and rescue victims. Visitors of all ages applauded as the team members showed their skills in rappelling at a run, upside down, and while carrying someone.
In March, the SWAT team took first place in building climbing at the N.C. Justice Academy’s state competition against teams from all over the state. Captain Wade Genthe of the Selective Enforcement Unit, credited that to the training they were able to do on the ESTC’s rescue tower.
“This is a very important facility here, a great asset — and not just for Lee County,” he said.
During the Open House, visitors also saw a police vehicular pursuit, emergency medical care demonstration, fingerprinting, and motorcycle riding. A PowerPoint presentation provided visitors with an overview of the Center and its history. The college’s Automotive Restoration Shop, while not associated with police or fire training, is located at the Center and was also open to visitors.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Lee County Commissioner Amy Dalrymple said at the close of the Open House. “To see these men and women out here training, doing amazing things. If we need firefighters or law enforcement, they’re up to the challenge because of the training they receive here. Every citizen should come and see this facility when they get the chance.”
Dalrymple said the county commissioners showed wisdom when, rather than abandoning the airport property off Tramway Road, they decided to work with the state and college in transforming it into a regional Emergency Services Training Center for Chatham, Harnett and Lee counties. In 2000, the General Assembly provided $750,000 for the development of the ESTC and Lee County and Central Carolina Community College committed $2.5 million from the 2000 N.C. Higher Education Bond Referendum to establish it.
“It was retooled to serve as a facility for the safety and well-being of the area,” Dalrymple said. “It is one of the most impressive things we’ve got in the county. This facility is just spectacular.”