CV citizens set time aside to get trained to help themselves – and their neighbors – after a major disaster.
By Mary O’KEEFE
Enlightening, educational, insightful, empowering and fun. These are just some of the words used to describe a 21-hour Community Emergency Response Team – CERT – class taught by Los Angeles County Fire Dept. The classes were held at LACoFD Camp 2 located near JPL and attended by community members.
The class was taught over three Saturdays with graduation day on May 25. LACoFD began offering the Federal Emergency Management Agency – FEMA – based classes in 2003.
“People helping people,” said Capt. Steve Harper, LACoFD, as he explained the basics of the course.
The class was led by Harper. Students were instructed on how to respond to an emergency, like an earthquake or other type of disaster. The class is mandated through FEMA and the L.A. County Citizen Corps. It is a consistent educational program, meaning that the core information is presented the same throughout the country.
“We modify some for local [areas],” Harper said.
The goal was to equip students with the information and skills that can help their families and community in case of an emergency.
“We want them to walk away with knowledge that empowers them,” Harper said.
The program instructs students on how to get ready for and respond to a disaster, not only in the techniques of administering first aid but how to initially organize themselves. For example, in a training session on Saturday, Harper gave Diana Pokorny, the chosen incident commander, information on an earthquake scenario. She was then tasked with organizing her team (the other students) into sections with each person given a specific job. Those with more medical training were in the makeshift triage area. Others were sent out to perform search and rescue, always working in teams of two or three.
The search and rescue students began going through classrooms that had been staged as being impacted by an earthquake, searching for injured victims. Once found, the victims were brought to triage for evaluation.
The firefighter instructors were on hand to answer questions throughout the drill.
“We are giving them experience and confidence, “ said Engineer Dan O’Neil, who assisted in the class instruction.
Mike Claessens agreed, applauding the efforts of LACoFD for their support and the level of professionalism of the class.
Claessens is a member of the Crescenta Valley Town Council and chairs the emergency preparedness committee. He is also a member of the Crescenta Valley CERT program that is based out of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept., Crescenta Valley Station.
“The training is really valuable,” Claessens said. “It [also] prepares us on what we can expect from the fire department [in case of an emergency].”
Roger Young, founder of the CV Fire Safe Council, attended the classes as a refresher course, having been previously trained. Young liked the way Harper and the other instructors approached the class.
“There is a fun and friendly way to learn about it,” he said.
At 17, Dillan Williams was the youngest in the classroom. He is a member of the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Explorer’s Program. Williams has been trained in emergency response, but wanted to take the FEMA-based class.
“I heard about [the class] from the Explorer captain and thought it would be a good program,” Williams said.
The students were instructed in a variety of areas including how to deal with small fires, administer first aid including making and putting on slings and splints, and how to evaluate a situation quickly and calmly.
After a disaster, emergency responders like the fire department will prioritize their response to every call, and the department will be spread thin, Claessens said. That is why this type of training is important. Following an emergency, it may be CERT members that will first arrive at a neighbor’s home before emergency responders. The hope of the instructors is that those who have taken the class will be able to respond locally and fill any emergency responder gaps that might occur.
But beyond that, Harper hopes that those trained will encourage others to go through the classes. He also encourages those who have taken a class to join their local CERT programs.
“I hope it creates a ripple affect of people helping people,” Harper said.
For information on CERT in Crescenta Valley email Paul or Lisa Dutton at firstname.lastname@example.org or Deputy Jorge Valdivia at email@example.com or contact Dep. Valdivia at (818) 236-4021. For information on the LACoFD CERT program email CERT@fire.lacounty.gov or call (888) 237-8939. For information on Glendale CERT go to fire.ci.glendale.ca.us/certprogram or call (818) 548-6404.