SANFORD — It’s a warm Saturday in March, and there’s a big, beat-up sedan burning under the early spring sun.
Groups of firefighters take turns attacking the fire from different angles while instructor Lee Junkins shouts directions and encouragement. Not far away, firemen from across Lee County mingle with their brethren from Ontario, Canada. There are squads from Virginia and Maryland too.
Just another Saturday in Sanford? The answer might surprise you.
The series of firefighter trainings held on March 11, 12 and 13 at Central Carolina Community College’s Emergency Services Training Center attracted firefighters from across the eastern seaboard. Landis Phillips, the college’s ETSC director, said that’s par for the course.
“We’re proud of our classes and also proud to be contributing to the economy,” Phillips said. “We have different trainings, whether they’re for firefighters or other emergency services, all the time. And we’re attracting people from all over the country. All of these people stay in hotels three or four nights and they’re buying their meals here. It’s good to be a boost to the economy.”
The March event ran three days at the ETSC, which is located off Tramway Road at the site of Sanford’s old airport, and focused on different aspects of combating vehicle fires.
Phillips said training began Friday, March 11 with courses on the restraint systems in newer vehicles – seat belts, airbags – and the hazards and challenges they pose if a fire occurs. The next day, the attendants focused on partial and fully-involved vehicle fires, and how car parts like internal struts react to fire and dictate the approach responders should take to the fire. The third day was for information about fires in hybrid and alternate fuel vehicles.
Lee Junkins, the instructor overseeing the firefighters’ approach to the burning vehicles, is from outside Fort Worth, Texas. He is the chief of Mid South Rescue Technologies, a Texas-based nonprofit that coordinates fire trainings for departments across the country who might not normally have access to them.
On March 12, he watched as four-man squads approached burning vehicles from different angles, reminding them to be mindful of highlighted areas on the vehicles which were marked to denote potential hazards which could explode or fly off during a fire. Between exercises, Junkins walked among the groups of firefighters, making sure everyone present had a chance to be on the line.
“With vehicles like this, it’s really important to know how you’re going to come at them if they’re on fire,” he said. “There’s a process to it, and it’s important for every firefighter to know that process.”
Phillips said Junkins became involved with CCCC through Billy Leach, a part-time instructor at the college’s ESTC.
“(Junkins) founded an annual event called Extrication Fest, which is held at Texas Motor Speedway. He has a national reputation as far as how emergency responders train,” Phillips said. “We got hooked up with him through Billy. This is the first time he’s been in North Carolina for a training event like this, so that’s a big deal.”
The ESTC is home to many fire trainings, but emergency responders of all stripes have used the center as well. Phillips said its trainings for big rig and big lift vehicles have attracted people to Sanford from as far away as California and Oregon.
The March 11-13 had about 55 attendees from roughly 25 departments, including local departments such as the Sanford Fire Department, the Lemon Springs Fire Department and the Tramway Fire Department.
For more information about training at the ESTC, call (919) 776-5601 or go online to www.cccc.edu
and click on “Continuing Education.”