Volunteers Drill Disaster Skills

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Newport Beach firefighter Jimmy Strack helps a CERT volunteer use a fire extinguisher to put out a fire as firefighter Adam Boyd watches from the background. Photos by Sara Hall

Saturday’s “Drill the Skills” event was a test of the Community Emergency Response Team. If it had been an actual emergency, more than 100 community volunteers would have been prepared and ready to help out.

The event was the final class for about 70 new CERT training graduates, and a refresher course for alumni who wanted to brush up on their emergency skills.

The CERT program trains community volunteers to be able to help themselves, their families and their neighborhoods during a disaster.

“If there’s a big disaster (CERT) helps people be self-sufficient,” said Newport Beach firefighter Jimmy Strack. “It also helps for everyday stuff… Like a stove fire.”

The “Drill the Skills” event gives the CERT volunteers some hands-on learning, Strack said.

“It’s one thing to talk about it,” he said, “it’s a different thing to actually do it.”

About 110 CERT members showed up to work on their fire suppression, first aid, triage, search-and-rescue and other emergency skills. The triage tent even included volunteer kids from the National Charity League and the Beach Service League acting as victims with a wide range of injuries the CERT members had to assess.

They also received their ID badges and had a disaster medical operations review.

After splitting into neighborhood teams and participating in all six emergency drill stations, the graduates were awarded their certificates.

“The Newport Beach CERT volunteers are certified as disaster service workers,” said Newport Beach Fire Department Community Preparedness Coordinator Matt Brisbois, “ready to help the Newport Beach community following unexpected disasters.”

A CERT volunteer checks an "injured" student at the triage drill station.

Gary Standard, the 2008 CERT volunteer of the year, went through the very first CERT class in Newport Beach nearly 15 years ago. He then brought in about 15 of his neighbors and the program grew from there.

“In a major emergency, like an earthquake, the city doesn’t have enough emergency responders to deal with all the low-level issues,” Standard said. “So trained residents handle themselves and their neighbors… First aid, rescue, fire suppression, the proper way to handle people… That‘s essential.”

Mutual aid from nearby cities probably isn’t likely either, Standard added, because they will be dealing with all of their own problems.

“Volunteers have always been important in the US and in (our) city,” said Newport Beach Fire Department Deputy Chief Ralph Restadius. “The residents are always willing to team up and help out.”

Getting the community involved helps both the firefighters and the residents, Restadius said. When citizens are prepared and self-sufficient they can help their neighbors and organize their community, which helps the fire department by allowing them to focus on the bigger tasks like fires or burning buildings.

Strack, who was teaching fire suppression with an extinguisher at the event, said he enjoys hearing that the information has really sunk in for the CERT members and that they are implementing their skills at home.

But if there is ever any doubt, call 911, Restadius said. Knowing first aid, CPR and how to work a fire extinguisher are all extremely important, he said, but so is knowing when something is too big for you to handle alone.

“It’s important we work together in an emergency,” said David Brandmeyer, the 2010 CERT volunteer of the year.

And it’s important everyone be prepared, he added.

“We are ready if we had a real disaster, right now,” said Standard, adding that they now have a mobile volunteer management and communication center that’s ready for action. It’s the mobile CERT headquarters in the event of an emergency, he said.

Brandmeyer is also a member of the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) under the sponsorship of the Newport Beach Police Department.

The RACES group consists of licensed amateur (ham) radio operators that assist the city’s public safety departments with communications during emergencies, and also through routine events and activities.

Communication may be extremely limited in the event of an emergency, Brandmeyer said, so being able to operate a ham radio and relay information through the network of police, city officials, community leaders and residents can be invaluable in a disaster situation.

“All of this (CERT and RACES) is about neighborhoods being able to provide the eyes and ears on the ground,” said Brandmeyer, a local small business owner.

Between CERT and RACES, there are 75 licensed ham operators, he said..

“(The ham radio) may perhaps be the only communication workable in the first hours or days of an earthquake (or other disaster or emergency),” said Standard, another licensed amateur radio operator. “Additionally, it’s good for the city to have eyes in the field to relay the status of neighborhoods.”

Anyone can get involved and be those eyes in the field, Restadius said.

People of all experience are welcome to join the CERT program, Brisbois said. Volunteers under the age of 18 need to have a parent or guardian with them.

Newport Beach holds four CERT classes each year, two in the spring and two in the fall and has certified over 650 residents and had over 1250 participate in the program.

“Newport Beach has one of the bigger, more active (CERT) programs in Orange County,” Brisbois said.

The CERT program through the Department of Homeland Security Citizen Corps.

“Through training, citizens can manage utilities and put out small fires; treat the three killers by opening airways, controlling bleeding, and treating for shock; provide basic medical aid; search for and rescue victims safely; and organize themselves and spontaneous volunteers to be effective,” according to the city’s CERT webpage. “CERT is a positive and realistic approach to emergency and disaster situations where citizens will be initially on their own and their actions can make a difference.”

Newport Beach firefighter Jimmy Strack explains to CERT volunteers how to properly use a fire extinguisher at the fire suppression drill station as firefighter Adam Boyd listens.


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