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Fayetteville Tech builds new hub for fire and rescue training

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Fayetteville Technical Community College’s latest project is a 30-acre fire and rescue complex that will draw students from across the state and the Eastern seaboard. The Regional Fire and Rescue Training Center will be a local and regional hub for fire and rescue personnel due to its size and offerings.

The first phase of the project, scheduled for completion this fall, includes a 24,000 square-foot building that will house a fully functioning firehouse, classrooms, apparatus bay, locker rooms, offices, and more. The first phase also includes burn buildings that will allow instructors and students to simulate live burns and a technical rescue complex.

The second and third phases of the project include more specialized training, like an indoor swift water rescue center that will be the first of its kind in North Carolina. This facility will be used to train personnel to perform rescues in fast-moving water, including rescuing people stuck in flooded cars and houses. The facility will include a tank that will hold 80,000 gallons of water. FTCC expects that this swift water rescue facility will be used to train rescue personnel from Virginia all the way to Florida.

FTCC President Dr. Larry Keen said that this new facility will be pivotal in training fire and rescue personnel to go out during tropical storms and hurricanes. Keen shared a personal experience that highlighted why this project matters so much to him.

“I’ll never forget as long as I live, my family and I were riding out Hurricane Matthew and there was a knock on my door. It was a fireman and a couple of fire people and a sheriff’s deputy,” Keen recalled. “They were trying to advise people to get out and so forth. I’ve always had great admiration for them, but at that moment I saw what those people do day in and day out.”

Mark Sorrells, the senior vice president for academic and student services at FTCC, said a third of the deaths that occur in water rescue are the actual rescuers.

“Part of that comes from not being properly experienced in the various scenarios that they’ve got to encounter in order to rescue people and save lives,” he said.

Stephen Drew, fire/rescue coordinator for FTCC (left) and Keen (right) share details about the facility’s features. Molly Osborne/EducationNC.

The college estimates the project will cost $40 million. FTCC will use $11 million from state bond money, $10 million from Cumberland County, and $20 million in state funding appropriated by the General Assembly in the recent budget.

Keen says a major reason for taking on this huge project was so that FTCC students and local personnel could be trained in Fayetteville and not have to travel out of state.

“We ought to design something that’s going to be specific enough to go beyond just the introductory and get into the recurring intermediate and advanced fire training activities,” Keen shared.

This joint project with Cumberland County was fully paid for before construction began. Cumberland County also donated the 30-acre lot that the center will occupy.

Stephen Drew, fire/rescue coordinator at FTCC, says that this project frees up his department from the City of Fayetteville’s schedule, whose facilities they currently use. The new center will give the fire training program the flexibility to schedule classes and training as they please.

Drew watches as construction continues at the Regional Fire and Rescue Training Center. Cheyenne McNeill/EducationNC

Helping adult learners get back on track

FTCC is a part of the N.C. Reconnect adult learner pilot. According to FTCC, more than half of the college’s students are above the age of 23.

The college used funding from the John M. Belk Endowment to pay tuition for adult learners who had lost eligibility for financial aid to go back to school. Most of these students had fallen just below a 2.0 GPA. This program was designed to help students in striking distance to be able to enroll and get back on track. In fall 2021, 44 students enrolled because of this funding, and 27 are still enrolled this spring.

FTCC also hired a dedicated success coach, Teshia McLean, to help and motivate students in this program. McLean focused on motivating students and connecting them with campus resources.

Many of the adult learners FTCC serves are either active military or veterans, thanks to the presence of Fort Bragg nearby. Fayetteville has one of the largest proportions of veterans in North Carolina and, according to Keen, currently has around 2,500 students deployed around the world.

Three adult learners enrolled in FTCC’s associate degree nursing program. From left to right: Brittaney, Frankie, and Victoria. Molly Osborne/EducationNC

To allow these students to keep up with their courses and graduate, FTCC started building its online capacity for military members who need a more flexible schedule.

“When they are trying to enhance their skill sets, their capabilities, their knowledge, and so forth, they’ve got to be able to run on the go. So, that’s why we created and really improved what we could do from an online perspective,” Keen said.

When students deploy, classes that cannot be completed via distance learning are put on pause, and students resume these courses when they return.

Keen said that already over 70 students in their medical programs have been deployed to eastern Europe in response to the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Many military members also turn to FTCC when they are getting ready to return to civilian life.

Two students in the associate degree nursing program, Victoria and Frankie, are retiring from the Army and looking for another way to give back to their community. Frankie says joining the program has allowed him to achieve a dream he had from the beginning of his career in the Army.

“I feel very fortunate because this is a significant delay on a goal that I had a long time ago,” Frankie shared. “I’m trying to go ahead and supplement my skills that I started a long time ago, and just get back into this profession that I really enjoyed.”