The idea of putting a training facility at the forest came out of a monthly Bladen County Firefighters Association meeting a few years ago, said Elizabethtown Fire Department Deputy Chief Jamie Smith, the association’s chairman.
That meeting led Bladen County Board of Commissioners to ask if it was possible for the N.C. Forest Service to donate 10 to 15 acres of the forest, which encompasses about 32,800 acres. The forest staff offered 10 acres of property on the corner of Johnstontown Road and Bill Martin Trail.
“Currently, there is no public safety training facility in Bladen County,” Smith said. “The main factor here is our jobs entail us to make training scenarios as close to ‘real world’ as possible. With us having no place to conduct training of such nature it puts us years behind. … We must have a facility conducive to the jobs we do.”
Smith said the fire departments in Bladen County share props used in training, which limits their current training scenarios to one or two topics. A facility would allow them to combine a lot of topics together, enabling more realistic training. Their hope is to have a wide variety of training, ranging from basic firefighter to law enforcement, wildland fire training, incident management and a whole lot more.
Michael Chesnutt, supervisor of Bladen Lakes State Forest, said the objective was to locate the facility so as to minimize fragmentation of the forest’s wildlife habitats. The chosen location also minimizes the negative impacts to those who work at the forest, as well as hunters and others who enjoy activities there.
The property where the training facility will be located is in an area adjacent to Bladen Lakes Elementary School, which sits on property that formerly was part of the forest. The school is within a zone that is already designated as a no-hunting safety zone, so there would not be a need to designate another safety zone on the forest.
“This endeavor has been yet another example of cooperating with other agencies to fulfill some real needs,” Chesnutt said. “I am sure that one day I will see a nice training facility on this site, and that I will be proud to have played a part in it being there. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future the North Carolina Forest Service were to make use of the training facility.”
Smith says the objective for the facility is for it to be a training center for local fire, EMS, law enforcement as well as state and federal agencies such as the N.C. Forest Service, State Highway Patrol, State Bureau of Investigation, Federal Bureau of Investigation and any emergency service organization that wants to use it.
The timeframe for opening the facility isn’t known yet, Smith said. First, the fire department needs to work out the funding, which he believes will take about 1 ½ years.