COPLEY TWP.: When an Aug. 10 truck fire was found to include a highly explosive gas, fire officials realized they needed to evacuate a nearby child-care facility and possibly some businesses.
In the past, that evacuation might have drawn from police and fire personnel needed for other tasks. Instead, they were able to call members of the new Community Emergency Response Team to help move the kids and suggest people in other nearby buildings evacuate.
“This was the first time we actually activated them,” said police Sgt. Jack Simone, who helped start the program. “We started in April.”
Dispatchers sent out the call via text messages, telephone and email to the 25 members. Within 30 minutes, 15 were gathered at the Copley Community Center on Sunset Drive to receive instructions.
The CERT concept was developed by the Los Angeles Fire Department in 1985. Interest in the program accelerated after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and training standards are set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Summit County, Richfield Village, Bath Township and Twinsburg also have CERT teams in varying stages of development.
Simone said Copley CERT members always meet first so they can be given instructions, they always work in pairs or larger groups and always gather after their work is done to be debriefed and report any problems. They are told not to go to the incident themselves or do anything they might consider dangerous.
The team only follows the police or fire department instructions. They can’t force a business to evacuate and if they were directing traffic and a car drove past a barricade, the CERT member would simply inform the police.
Copley’s CERT members have not completed the 16 hours of training needed for certification, but Simone felt they knew enough to handle the Aug. 10 evacuation.
“What we want to do is educate a group of citizens that if we were to have … a weather-related incident they could sustain themselves, help their neighbors and know what to do in the event that safety forces couldn’t get there right way,” he said.
Eventually, they will be trained in first aid, traffic control, damage assessment and other tasks. A copy of the CERT agenda will appear with this story on Ohio.com.
CERT candidates received specially marked vests on Thursday and eventually will have radios. In a widespread emergency, they would be able to report things police and fire personnel can’t see.
Wide range of skills
The program calls for nine monthly training sessions and many members are about halfway through it. Unlike the police department’s citizen academy, which is mostly educational, CERT calls them to action.
The members have a variety of skills.
Leonard Shetler is retired after owning a power equipment-rental company. He knows about all kinds of equipment and owns a few rigs that could come in handy in an emergency.
Chuck Shank once worked in emergency psychiatric services and says he could handle the emotional problems people face in an emergency. “It’s how you talk to people, not what you say,” he said.
Robert Kocsis is a former business manager and said he could help build communication skills.
Cameron Fraser is familiar with hazardous materials from previous jobs.
Many in the group are retirement age, but Brad Webel is only 21.
“I bring that younger feel,” he said. “I feel more apt to do skills like running, being able to lift someone. … I bring the aspect a younger person can.”
He is training to be a firefighter.
Safety comes first
The two-hour sessions go fast, said firefighter Jeff Varga, also a CERT instructor
“One of the things I beat on a lot is their own safety, that’s paramount,” he said. “The whole point of it is their safety. We don’t want them to become part of the problem.”
From the start, participants are asked what they can and cannot do. Varga and Simone said they will never assign team members to tasks they can’t handle.
“I don’t think our police or fire departments would put us in a dangerous situation,” said Robin Farley.
Valerie DeRose, Summit County Emergency Management Agency senior administrator, said the county CERT has 94 members registered with the state and 173 more who are being trained.
The county also has 750 in its Medical Reserve Corp. They include doctors, nurses and technicians who would be called in a medical emergency.
“We would use them at any level but we would try to use them in some kind of medical assistance,” DeRose said.
The county team was called to help with cooling centers during record temperatures last year and some helped with urban flooding that came right after the heat wave.
Simone said there is room for more volunteers.
“We would like to have more residents involved, because the more we could educate … the better, but 25 is a nice group,” he said.
For more information, call 330-666-1853.
Dave Scott can be reached at 330-996-3577 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Scott on Twitter at Davescottofakro.