CERT program trains citizens in disaster preparedness

Photo contributed by CERT

At any moment, the unthinkable can occur: a devastating earthquake, an awful act of terrorism or a medical emergency. While it’s best not to worry and dwell on the possibility of a worst-case scenario, it is always a good idea to be prepared.

Starting Jan. 5, Clovis residents will have the opportunity to learn strategies that can prepare them for these scenarios. At least once a year, the Clovis Fire Department offers Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training, a 5-week course that trains students in how to respond during different disasters. Students taking the course learn everything from how to turn off their electricity and gas lines to basic medical skills to how to assist in putting out a fire.

While the class is the initial step needed to volunteer on the Clovis Fire Department’s CERT team, coordinator and CERT instructor Andy Isolano said those that take the class aren’t required to sign up as volunteers.q

“If all you get out of it is to know what to do in an emergency to help your family and possibly your neighbors and you never come back again, we’re OK with that because every person that is prepared is one less victim in a major situation like an earthquake, hurricane, tornado or anything that can be widespread and major,” Isolano said. “Every person that we train that leaves here and knows what to do or at least knows not to panic is one less person who is going to call 911 in a widespread emergency and that is a big goal for us.”

CERT volunteer and coordinator Shirley Redman said she took the course six years ago not knowing what to expect.

“When I first signed up, I thought I was just going to take this because it looked like something to take up my time and I thought to myself, what do I not know about getting myself ready and the first night I was blown away. I didn’t know anything,” Redman said. “When you’re an older adult you think you’ve experienced it all but that’s not true.”

Isolano echoed Redman’s remarks: “You don’t realize how not ready you are,” he said.

In the California, the most likely worst-case scenario is an earthquake, but that is not the only constant threat hovering over citizens as they go about their daily routine—with recent terrorist attacks happening as close to home as San Bernardino, many are concerned. What do we do if an act of terrorism happens here?

Like with any natural disaster, the main key is not to panic, Isolano said.

Having the CERT training, which includes a class on terrorism, a class on disaster psychology and three sessions of medical operations, will give students skills needed not to panic, even in the worst situations.

“We have Clovis police officer Ryan Swank coming to talk about,” Redman said. “Ryan dealt with terrorism in the military and in the police department here so he will probably touch bases on a lot of what we need to be aware of since that [San Bernardino] happened. I know last time he just told us to be more aware and watch our surroundings and watch for oddities but he didn’t go into great detail about wat to do when things blow up and or that sort of thing. I’m sure he’ll have more to share now. Then, officer Drake Hodge will come in and talk about the psychology and trauma of a disaster and he is really good too. He is on the Clovis Police Department’s bomb squad team so he knows all about trauma.”

After five weeks of instruction, CERT students get to apply their new skill set in a disaster simulation held at the Clovis Fire Training Center. During the simulation, CERT students fight fires, search for and rescue victims from a building and evaluate injuries and administer basic medical care to victims.

“They actually get a live simulation of a disaster where they get to do each requirement and get watched and evaluated while they do it,” Isolano said. “The scenarios include assisting someone who has collapsed, putting out a live fire with an extinguisher, searching a building for injured people and treating triage people medically.”

Following the disaster simulation is a graduation ceremony. After graduation, most go home with knowledge they hopefully never have to use, while a few decide to continue working with the fire department as trained volunteers.

“For most, it’s one of those things where you leave the class and you can kind of just picture a situation like ‘hmm, that house there, an elderly couple lives there’ and you put it in the back of your mind that if there was a disaster, you would knock on their door. It’s just situational awareness,” Isolano said.

“We have our group of about 30 active members that stay with CERT and they do anything from going to the senior center to talk to them about fire safety or trip hazards to volunteering to give out water and do logistical stuff at our annual symposium or at our trainings like the recent high-rise training,” Isolano continued, “If we get a big fire in Clovis, they get paged out and go and pick up Support 41 and take it to the fire and they will sort of do what Red Cross does, helping with the victims. For example, if a victim runs out of fire without shoes, Support 41 has flip-flops to give to them. The good thing is here in Clovis those situations are few and far between, but that is one of the things they can do if they stay.”

Isolano said the fire department couldn’t do all it does without the assistance of trained volunteers and in a disaster situation it is the volunteers, both trained and untrained, that make the difference.

“I’ve been personally involved with a couple of the major disasters that have happened over the last 15 years and without the volunteers we couldn’t have done it,” Isolano said. “As a paid professional, volunteers got us through it and that is why this program is important. If we had an earthquake today in Clovis, the 15 firefighters on duty cannot help the 100,000 people in Clovis. They can help the most seriously affected and then our CERT trained volunteers would go out and help the less affected people.

“I was at 9/11. I was at Hurricane Katrina. I was at disasters beyond fathomable expectations and if they had 1,000 trained volunteers, there were another 5,000 untrained volunteers that just said ‘show me what to do’ so there were the paid professionals, the trained volunteers and then just the regular volunteers and there was more of each group trickling down. If something happened tomorrow, 10 people who have never taken a CERT class before could come to a volunteer like Shirley and ask ‘what do you need me to do?’ and she could teach them, so 100 volunteers can turn into 1,000 people that help.”

The next disaster preparedness training course is scheduled for Jan. 5 thru Feb. 6, 2016. Classes are held Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Clovis Fire/Police Headquarters at 1233 5th Street. The disaster simulation will be held Saturday, Feb. 6 at the Clovis Fire Training Center at 3300 Lind Ave. in Clovis. Attendance to all sessions is required to earn a Certificate of Completion. This five-week course is provided free of charge. To sign up for the class, contact the Clovis Fire Department at (559) 324-2217 or at cert@ci.clovis.ca.us

For more information, visit www.cityofclovis.com/fire/cert