Emergency responders express needs at 9/11 service

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Many area residents attended the Patriot Day 9/11 service Monday at Corinth Baptist Church. Here they sing "America the Beautiful" during the ceremony. Monday, September 11, 2017.


By William F. West
Staff Writer

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

An N.C. Highway Patrol state trooper used the pulpit at a local church during a 9/11 remembrance to tell the gathering that his agency is operating shorthanded.

The event, held to remember the thousands who lost their lives, including many emergency personnel, firefighters and police officers, during the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, included prayers for emergency responders who provide those services today.

Trooper Kevin Briggs, in a speech before approximately 70 people at Corinth Baptist on Monday, said his maternal grandfather, who had a fifth-grade education, had always advised him to speak from the heart. The gathering's organizer Margaret Twiford had asked representatives of area emergency agencies to provide data about their respective operations and services.

Briggs told the gathering of the situation at the Highway Patrol, "As you can you only imagine in this current climate, recruiting is next to impossible." He recalled when he first applied to the patrol in 1992, at least 2,000 sought to be hired to fill 60 positions. He said today, the patrol is lucky to receive anywhere from 300 to 350 applications for those 60 positions.

Locally, he said, the Elizabeth City-based patrol office is supposed to have 15 troopers, but five of those trooper positions are vacant. Additionally, Briggs said years ago, every Friday and Saturday night, there would be eight troopers and a supervisory sergeant working the Elizabeth City-based office's service area.

"Now, we're lucky if there's three of us" and a supervisory sergeant covering the area, which extends from Edenton to the North Carolina-Virginia border just below Chesapeake, he said.

He also said not only is the Elizabeth City-based office short five troopers, the Highway Patrol's 20-county troop area is short 30 and the patrol statewide is short 150. He also said the patrol is short of telecommunicators.

"This extends well beyond the patrol because it also impacts our local agencies, our sheriff's offices and our police departments because, simply put, we have longer response times," he said.

"There are fewer of us," he said. "It takes us longer. We have never had the pleasure of being able to radio-in vehicle stops. We simply stop too many cars. Nobody knows where we are."

Briggs also noted he and fellow troopers perform ceremonial functions and provide support services outside their service areas and North Carolina. He particularly noted after his shift he would be debriefing those present after Friday's crash of the Duke Life Flight helicopter in Perquimans County.

Elizabeth City Fire Chief Larry Mackey, who also spoke at Monday's gathering, told Briggs he can sympathize with his situation at the Highway Patrol.

"Thirteen years ago, I recruited firefighters," said Mackey, who served with the Charlotte Fire Department prior to being hired as fire chief here in 2008.

"I recruited at military bases all up and down the eastern seaboard," Mackey noted. "And at those bases I met continually with people from public safety, especially law enforcement, interacted with both a recruiter for the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.

Mackey urged those at the gathering to interact with younger people and encourage them to serve in public safety. "Some of the best recruiters that we have for public safety are families and friends," he said.

Carolyn Self, who has been a disaster responder for the American Red Cross for approximately 25 years, noted Red Cross volunteers were in Houston before Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast city and rode out the stormy weather.

Self said although the Red Cross was told they could take in only 5,000 people at a mega-shelter opened there, the organization took in another 5,000.

She also said in the midst of Harvey and between Texas and Louisiana, the Red Cross served approximately one million meals and snacks.

She went on tell of the personal impact of Irma on her. She's from Jacksonville, Fla., which is the scene of flooding, and she is praying for a sister and her relatives who live in a small Georgia town being pounded by Irma's effects.

Additionally, Self in her remarks included a call for togetherness, saying, "We are a country that is built on love, compassion, God's love.

"And I think everyone needs to find a way to open their hearts and accept each other. And let's continue to pray for the unity of this country," he said, drawing applause from the audience.

Elizabeth City Deputy Fire Chief Barry Overman sang faith-based and patriotic songs and received applause after performing a rendition of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless The USA."

Carl Brinkley said afterward he believed the program was great and showed much fellowship and unity.

Brinkley, of Camden County, said he had been to the 9/11 gathering before and said he returned to both support Twiford and be a patriot.

"It's very rewarding, what she does to put this together," Brinkley said.