“Continuing education and confidence are necessary traits for every firefighter,” James Owens, a technical rescuer and certified level-two volunteer firefighter with Crouse Fire Department, told the Times-News on Friday.
Owens, who is also a local business owner, recently completed his second training experience on Incident Command at the nation’s only “federally chartered” training facility for weapons of mass destruction, the FEMA Center for Domestic Preparedness at Fort McClellan in Anniston, Ala.
Owens said the training site was the previous location of the U.S. Army’s chemical warfare school before Homeland Security assumed the property as a place for first responders to train with a variety of hazardous materials including anthrax, VX nerve agent and sarin gas.
The agency’s training and public information officer, Owens has served nearly 15 years as an emergency-response worker in both Lincoln and Gaston counties. He considers the critical course “extremely informative” and “valuable” for leading his agency in all emergency situations.
“Fire departments use the incident command structure on every call we run, whether a traffic accident, brush fire, structure fire, etc.,” he said.
“The hands-on training and tabletop exercises have made me more confident in my own ability.”
Owens participated in a six-hour simulation of a mid-sized city terrorist attack, learning the significance of interpersonal communication both within a department and among multiple agencies by sharing information across jurisdictional lines.
FEMA chose Owens for the weeklong training, and the federal government funded his travel and training expenses.
During his time in Alabama, he ascertained positive and effective ways to plan ahead for local emergencies, thus promoting a safer community environment.
In addition to gaining first-hand training knowledge, Owens networked with numerous other first responders who have served on the front lines of some of the nation’s most memorable and dramatic disasters.
“I’ve been able to talk to emergency workers who responded to Ground Zero on 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the Oklahoma City bombing,” he said. “Being able to hear their stories and learn from their experiences was invaluable.”
Owens explained how his recent training will specifically benefit the rural Crouse community, an area he said borders Lincolnton’s water treatment plant, and the entire county, which frequently stores and encounters a number of precarious chemicals.
“Hazardous materials are transported through our fire district on a regular basis via our highway and railway,” he said. “We have to be ready to respond to any type of incident.”
Owens is ready to share his training experience with his fellow Crouse firefighters. He said the state requires volunteer agencies receive the same amount of training as fire crews at full-time departments.
In addition, he is set to attend two other FEMA trainings this year including one course each on pandemic planning and HAZMAT response.
Owens’ passion for serving the community and engaging in emergency-type situations began at a young age, joining the Lincoln County Rescue Squad at 16, and local volunteer fire department at 18.
“I’ve wanted to (be a firefighter) since I was old enough to know what a fire engine was,” he said.