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County boasts crisis response school

 

JENNA-LEY HARRISON

Staff Writer

 

For at least the last six years, Lincoln County has served as the only location in the country with a crisis response training school.

County Fire Marshal and Lincolnton Pastor Mike Futrell joined in 2007 with Dr. Tina S. Brookes, internationally-known critical response trainer and consultant, to establish The Academy:  National Institute for Crisis Response Training (NICRT) in Lincolnton.

Additionally a licensed social worker for Burke County Schools, Brookes serves as the clinical director and chief training officer for the local institute, located inside Shalom Baptist Church.

With classes offered monthly since the school’s inception and a 15-student minimum per training session, NICRT has educated more than 1,200 people — many of whom live out-of-state and even out-of-country.

Futrell and Brookes initially started the program to train local residents. However, news of the school soon reached far beyond county, state and national lines, engaging people worldwide, sending them back home with training they could use and share in their individual communities.

In addition to first-responders, who receive extensive crisis response training through various other required classes, students who participate in the Lincolnton program stem from a number of diverse career fields.

Futrell said teachers, pastors and mental health professionals have all flocked to the institute over the years.

The school has engaged individuals from as far away as Canada and Thailand, the home of two doctors who once took a class, Futrell said.

He also noted how the school’s curriculum has been designed to match the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) National Incident Management System (NIMS) training, established by the Department of Homeland Security in 2004.

NIMS trains state and federal employees in the government and non-governmental sector whose careers require they learn how to “work together to prepare for, prevent, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of” varying sizes, degrees, locations and causes of emergency situations, according to Homeland Security’s 2011 NIMS training program manual, found on fema.gov.

On the surface, NICRT’s program informs people how to help others — families and emergency-response agencies — best respond to a crisis situation. However, more than that, the training also provides ways to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of those involved in an emergency situation.

In a letter the school issues to potential students, Futrell reveals the critical role of a crisis responder and how one must be able to adapt to stressful circumstances and “the fluctuating moods of people involved.”

Brookes further iterated the importance of responder and victim interactions.

“Crisis is a face-to-face relationship,” she said.

Crisis responders have a duty to care for the immediate victim(s) involved, first-responders and the surrounding community where an incident has occurred.

“The crisis responder is next to the pulse of the emergency service,” Futrell said in the letter. “It is a job that is demanding, confidential, trusting and needed for the lives of the emergency service workers and their families.”

He also pointed out the purpose of the program is not to train people to take over first-responders’ responsibilities or crowd an already-overwhelming situation but rather to come alongside emergency teams and assist, like a chaplain, in meeting individuals’ emotional needs, soothing their anxieties and helping them cope with the reality of a recent tragedy.

“We don’t want to go in and mess up things further,” Futrell said.

Lincoln County maintains a total of eight special response teams, including swift-water rescue, land and search rescue and high angle rescue, as well as a CREST team whose members have undergone the NICRT training in Lincolnton.

Retired pastor Ted Bost Jr., who once served as head of Daniel’s Lutheran Church in Lincolnton and chaplain for Union Volunteer Fire Department, talked about his time on the team and how he would tell victims “God hasn’t forgotten you” — a phrase he said is often difficult for people to believe in the midst of heartache.

“It’s often one of the worst days of someone’s life — maybe even the worst day,” he said. “Our job is to walk with them…and remind them of God’s presence.”

Bost originally took crisis training classes at locations all over the country, but because the price tag for each class often broke the bank, he decided to switch to Lincolnton, after talking to Futrell, and save money by enrolling in the local school’s cheaper training.

The school’s most recent class took place this week, with students stemming from a number of different states.

For Virginia resident and retiree Jamee Wetzel, locating a crisis response training class has been challenging. She eventually discovered Lincoln County’s NICRT program via the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, where a large portion of the school’s students originate.

Futrell said the institute has maintained a great working relationship with the faith-based facility over the years.

Wetzel felt the training she’s received from the nearly eight classes in the program she’s completed has been priceless and increased her confidence in helping others in distress.

“What I learned here is being used on a more personal level — responding to friends, neighbors and family,” she said. “Each class builds on a core set of values and what that looks like in different situations.”

Lincoln County resident John Duncan, who currently works as chaplain for the Hickory Fire Department and previously filled the role at Boger City Fire Department, pointed out the importance of connecting with each victim before offering counsel.

“They’ve got to get to know you before they trust you,” he said.

Duncan, who participated in this week’s NICRT training alongside Wetzel is also a member of the Lincoln County CREST Team, which Futrell said is separate from the county’s Critical Response Team (CRT). However, both were established six years ago.

He and Futrell have been working together in emergency response situations for the last several years and responded to help in the recovery mission in Stanley in April to retrieve the bodies of two children buried alive in a trench collapse.

While the program offers 26 different courses, Brookes said an individual does not have to complete all of them before utilizing their knowledge outside the classroom and diving head first into a crisis incident.

The nationally-recognized courses, all of which fall under the category of International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) and Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM), cover areas such as suicide prevention, school crises, group crisis intervention, stress management for trauma service providers and CISM application with children, among others.

Brookes is one of eight total instructors who teach the classes, having trained more than 2,000 individuals across the globe over the last two decades.

For more information on NICRT or how to get involved, contact Mike Futrell at 704-732-6909 or theacademynicrt@bellsouth.net or visit theacademy-nicrt.net/.

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