WILKESBORO, N.C. — North Carolina ranks second in the nation for fire-related firefighters deaths. The state fire marshal has implemented new certification requirements to combat that.
In Wilkes County, firefighters rely on Wilkes Community College to help them with certification; which the college has been doing for over three decades.
However, the new requirements brought down from the fire marshal include training in a three story fire training building; a building which the college does not currently have.
“What it means for firefighters in our region is they would have to travel further to get that certification,” said Dr. Jeff Cox, Wilkes Community College president.
In order to prevent the 1,400 or so firefighters they help certify from having to travel, the college is asking county commissioners to help them build one of the three story training buildings. A project estimated to cost between $700,000 and $1,000,000.
“Obviously [we’re] still in tough economic times, so everyone’s concerned about funding,” said Cox.
For Wilkesboro Fire Chief Jason Smithey, making sure the men and women under him are properly trained could be the difference between life and death.
“Our job changes second to second actually, it seems like. And [we] have to, I guess you could say, roll with the punches a lot of the time,” said Smithey.
Smithey says the last three fire-related firefighter deaths he can remember were both in multi-story buildings. He says although his department rarely sees multi-story building fires, they can be some of the most important to train for.
“You just can’t back up. You’re already in it, you’re in the situation [and] you have to figure out how to adapt and get out of it,” said Smithey.
Cox says he has discussed the need for the building with Wilkes County Commissioners and they were receptive to the idea of trying to find funding for the building.