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The Hunt State Policy Fellows gathered in Wilmington on Sunday night, the day after the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and on what for many is now celebrated as the National Day of Encouragement, to honor the rescuers deployed to Canton who saved 13 adults and two children in the recent historic flood in Western North Carolina.

The mayor of Canton, Zeb Smathers, is a Hunt State Policy Fellow. He said to those who rescued his city, “Through all the chaos of this world, you are the best of us.”

North Carolina Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 11 with, from left to right, Commissioner Deb Hays, Mayor Zeb Smathers, Sen. Michael Lee, and Dr. Javaid Siddiqi. Mebane Rash/EducationNC

The North Carolina Urban Search and Rescue task force 11 includes members of the Wilmington Fire Department and New Hanover County Fire Rescue with extensive training in swift water and flood rescue. The task force is equipped with state-of-the-art rescue equipment, including high-water rescue vehicles, low-draft rescue boats, and advanced satellite communications equipment.

The rescuers in attendance included Donnie Hall, Matt Davis, Rudolph Shackelford, Steve Mason, Eric Moon, Ben Bobzien, Blake Turner, Matthew Simmons, Phillip Lail, Joshua Bossio, Tim Karp, Ben Ward, Scott Herring, Dan Bossio, Brent Stophel, Brian Wyland, Jeremy Ringham, Brian Thesis, Carmen Delia, Eli Venecia, and Chris Stenerson.

EdNC reported from Transylvania and Haywood counties during the flooding.

Deb Hays, the vice chair of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners, also thanked the rescuers, noting their willingness to go toward danger. “To me,” she said, “that is true public service, and it’s also the definition of a hero.”

“Wilmington and the rest of the North Carolina coast know all too well the devastating impact that natural disasters can have on a community,” said Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, who serves on The Hunt Institute’s Board of Directors. “Task Force 11 has made a tremendous impact along the coast and across the state.  I am both exceedingly proud and humbled by the sacrifices members of Task Force 11 have made to help save lives during catastrophic weather events.”

Mayor Smathers presented the Haywood County flag to Donnie Hall, the fire chief of New Hanover County, and Steve Mason, the interim fire chief of Wilmington.

Smathers described a normal day that turned into “an apocalypse” for Haywood County as “a wall of water” flooded into Canton with very little warning.

Canton lost six people, many homes and businesses, the town hall, the police department, the fire department, and much more. Schools and playing fields were destroyed in nearby towns.

Smathers called for the Hunt State Policy Fellows to honor the rescuers by doing better.

Noting the politicization and toxicity of our civic discourse, Smathers said the rescuers taught us what can be accomplished “when you just show up and say, ‘I’m gonna help. I care about you.'”

They set the standard for public leadership, he said.

Catrina Thompson, the police chief in Winston-Salem, is also a Hunt State Policy Fellow. Thompson’s leadership during the shooting at Mount Tabor High School was remarkable, and her remarks to the community in the hours after the shooting meet that standard. She issued an invitation to parents to call her directly if they have concerns.

In the press conference following the shooting, Thompson lifted up the educators and school leaders willing to protect their students.

To those of you whose public service and leadership requires moving toward danger for others, including too often our students, thank you.

The Hunt State Policy Fellows is a bipartisan group of future education policymakers and aspiring state and local elected officials from across North Carolina.

From the left, Catrina Thompson, Kate Groat, Larken Egleston, all Hunt State Policy Fellows. Jennifer Bell is with SAS.

“We launched the Hunt State Policy Fellows program this summer to support policymakers at all levels work together to develop a bipartisan consensus on the issues that matter most for students,” said Hunt Institute President and CEO, Dr. Javaid Siddiqi. “This moment shows that the connections this program forges go beyond even education.”

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Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.