This article appeared in The West Sacramento News-Ledgeron September 16, 2015.
West Sacramento’s CERT: Prepare, Educate, and Assist
Writing and photographs by Thomas Farley
Are you ready for a disaster? CERT members are. CERT stands for Community Emergency Response Team. There are teams across the country, often sponsored by a fire department. Here in West Sacramento, over 250 citizen volunteers in the last six years have trained in emergency preparedness and assistance. CERT members can educate people on disaster preparedness, assist professional responders in case of an emergency, and provide community aid. On one day a member might help search for a missing person, and on the next they may be helping with crowd safety during a bicycle race.
Those interested in joining CERT take a free session of classes called a Training Academy. Topics include disaster preparedness, fire safety, hazardous material familiarity, basic medical skills, and light search and rescue. Many take the Academy solely for their own enrichment; there is no obligation to participate in CERT activities after passing basic training. Further involvement with CERT, however, does allow a member to build on what they have learned, by assisting in community events or by joining in field exercises offered at different times of the year.
Ashley Lucas is an active CERT member. She describes a regional CERT event that happens in Monterey. “It’s an exercise to keep our skills up-to-date. We practice search and rescue, triaging, transporting patients, setting up shelters, things that we would need to do in case of a disaster. The people we practice on are made up with what’s called moulage, makeup that looks like a bone is sticking out of their arm, along with simulated cuts and bruises. It’s pretty realistic.”
Another member, Fred Bustillos, recalled his previous experience in Monterey, in which he had to find multiple “victims” inside a completely blacked out three story building. He regards it as a highlight of his CERT experience. “You had to keep your wits about you. Even though you had safety gear and flashlights, you still had to find those people and then navigate back.”
I talked to another long time CERT member, Randall Frank, outside Fire Station 45. He was detailing the CERT utility trailer, which he keeps in readiness at all times. It contains pry bars, a chainsaw, a generator, floats for river rescue, and a hundred other items. Everything for a disaster that might happen now. Or later.
“We’re preparing for El Niño, even if it isn’t half as bad as predicted,” says Frank. “In a possible flood situation, CERT members can free up emergency workers to do more critical jobs. We can provide the nearby Reclamation Districts with trained levee patrol spotters if their personnel are suddenly needed elsewhere. Or, if there’s a downed power line in a storm, CERT personnel can stand guard and keep people away until PG&E responds. A fire engine crew doesn’t have to be tied up to do that duty.” Of all the work he does for CERT, though, Randall seems proudest of the hours he puts in demonstrating the Fire Department’s Fire Prevention trailer. It’s used to teach children about fire safety and how to best exit a burning building. As he says, “If it saves one life, the effort is worth it.”