JONES LAKE — An amalgamation of sorts took place this week as first-responders gathered for training in an effort to better serve the community. The instruction, which took place at Jones Lake State Park, was put together by the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office to sharpen the tracking skills of regional emergency personnel.
The 30 men and women who attended the training represented agencies such as the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, State Highway Patrol, Bladen County state parks, Wake County Wildlife Resources, Emergency Management, and volunteer fire departments.
Gary Turlington, officer in charge of training with the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office, said that this class stemmed from other training that had recently taken place.
“Back before the of end of the year, we had a man tracking class … this class is an extension of that,” he said. “It’s an effort to facilitate the search and rescue of lost children, the elderly, or hiking groups that get lost in the rural parts of North Carolina.”
While Turlington didn’t give statistics on the number of people lost annually in Bladen County, he did say that it is a frequent occurrence in a county with 73,000 acres of state parks.
“The population in Bladen County is extremely thin — about 40 people per square mile — and children, hikers, and the infirm get lost pretty often here.”
In order to assist with the class, the Sheriff’s Office called on the best the military had to offer. Charlie retired from 20 years of service with the army. The special forces educator has trained Green Berets in the very kinds of skills he taught this week to regional emergency responders.
During the three-day training, Charlie worked with the attendees on map-reading skills as they relate to search and rescue. Students of the class learned topographical skills on day one and on days two and three put those learned skills to use in the park.
Charlie explained the map-reading skills this way: “It’s like using a GPS in the city and going block to block. (In the woods), you don’t have street signs for direction, so you have to be able to understand what’s on the ground. Mapmakers tell you what’s on land so you can know where you are. That’s what the squiggly lines, dots, and black squares are for—they tell you where hills, wooded areas, and clearings are.”
On days two and three, attendees were required to establish way points in the park and find their way from one way point to another without a GPS, using only a topographical map and a compass.
Once emergency personnel are armed with these skills, search and rescue becomes about establishing a command post and distributing personnel on a map to facilitate finding the lost person, explained Turlington.
In addition to providing education, the training was another opportunity for first-responders to collaborate. Turlington said, “It gives agencies an opportunity to train together so that we can facilitate the ability to work together when needed.”
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.