For over 10 years, the Clovis Fire Department has trained city residents to put out fires, extract victims from debris, splint broken limbs and more through a program called CERT.
CERT, an acronym for Community Emergency Response Team, is a federal program with the goal of preparing citizens to be able to help themselves and others after a disaster. Members of the program include college students, retirees, teachers and business owners that spend two nights each week for a month at the Clovis Fire Department learning how to respond to a catastrophe.
A group of 20 people graduated from CERT training recently after a simulation at the Clovis Fire Training Center in which the Clovis Fire Department transformed the Training Center into mock disaster scenes complete with Center for Advanced Research and Technology (CART) students serving as simulated victims, flammable liquid fuel fire and a portion of a collapsed buildings.
“In this final class, they put together all the things that they have learned to use,” said CERT teen coordinator Laurie Hayes. “There’s a simulation of an earthquake and there are victims. So, the people in the class have to first determine who is going to be their incident commander and that is the person that is going determine what is done. There’s also search and rescue and medical teams that they work with.
“First, they go around and look at the building and assess if it is safe for them to go in. After that, they go in and do triage in which they determine the extent and urgency of injuries. They then rescue those with immediate injuries first and take them to a triage area where other members with then assess for further injuries.”
Here’s how the simulation went down: A dummy was trapped underneath fallen tables and chairs in a darkened room. Rescuers had to pull the victim out with flashlights and cribbing, small pieces of wood that are stacked under heavy debris to free trapped victims. In another area, a burn pan threw flames in the air, and CERT students had to put the fire out with an extinguisher. In an apartment complex hallway, victims from CART moaned for help. The rescuers had to figure out which person to treat first and how to get them to safety.
The CERT trainees decided to help a young girl with a gushing head wound after a 30-second evaluation, the appropriate time to spend on an emergency evaluation. Before rescuers respond to a disaster, they must make an inventory of what they have and decide who should be rescued first, said Chad Fitzgerald who heads the CERT training.
“A typical mistake people make is they panic and don’t take five minutes to gather the facts and make a decision on what to do,” he said.
Recent hurricanes have stressed see the importance of having community members trained in lifesaving techniques. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says you should be able to sustain yourself and your family for a minimum of 48 hours.
“Citizens need to realize they’re part of the response element,” said Clovis Fire Chief, John Binaski. “More citizens will most likely survive a large-scale event if more people are properly training to provide help to their neighbors during a catastrophe.”
The City of Clovis used CERT volunteers during neighborhood floods in January 2006. The volunteers filled about 1,000 sandbags and last year, they helped drought victims in Porterville connect with essential services and potable water as part of a statewide team.
“We try to plug them into volunteer opportunities whenever they are available,” Fitzgerald said.
The Clovis Fire Department, which has held CERT classes since 2005, plans to conduct the next training in September of 2018. Those interested in getting involved with CERT can visit the Clovis Fire Department’s Facebook page for updates or call 559-324-2200 to reserve a seat.