One Community Emergency Response Team volunteer gently walked an elderly woman out of the building while asking her name.
Another asked a young boy lying on a red tarp outside: “Is it OK if I check you over a little bit?”
Meanwhile, Orange City Fire Department Arson Investigator Anthony Gutierrez, a CERT instructor, checked in with the team.
“Is everybody getting treated?” he asked.
Set up to simulate as closely as possible a real-life disaster situation (a large earthquake with a collapsed building), the June 7 event was part of regular training scenarios for CERT volunteers. But this event was special in that it also marked two years that the volunteer-based, disaster-relief training program was started up by the City of Orange.
“It’s so rewarding to watch all of you embrace the training and the exercises,” CERT coordinator and Orange Police Department Crime Prevention Specialist Michelle Micallef told the hundred or so volunteers gathered at the Orange Department of Public Works yard for the celebration and training. “In less than two years, 250 individuals have completed the certification training.”
The oldest certified volunteer is 88 and the youngest is 23, she said. And many of the volunteers continued on after basic training to receive more advanced coursework to become CERT Mutual Aid Responders – there will be 50 by summer’s end. The volunteers have participated this year in many exercises, including one with the American Red Cross and another with the local SWAT team.
Orange Mayor Teresa “Tita” Smith also addressed the volunteers.
“I was in the very first class and I was so pleased to do that,” she said. “So I’m a grandma like a lot of you here…I really want to make the plea that we get our kids involved and our grandkids involved.”
Orange Chief of Police Thomas Kisela spoke about the importance of CERT for the city.
“It takes a whole community,” he said.
The evening’s training consisted of an earthquake scenario requiring volunteers to find victims in a collapsed building, to put out live fires with extinguishers, and to use wooden logs and “cribbing” to rescue a trapped victim.
While one group of volunteers worked on that scenario, the other two split between a tourniquet training session and an introduction to animal shelter training. Volunteers rotated through the three sessions throughout the evening.
Susan Keyes, president of Southern California Animal Rescue, spoke to the volunteers about setting up an animal shelter in a disaster situation, including knowing relevant rules and laws, and the importance of keeping proper records.
“There’s going to be a lot of animals and you’re going to have to be able to accommodate them,” she said.
Orange City Fire firefighter/paramedic Stephen Fan, a CERT instructor, led the session on basic tourniquet application.
“What happens if bleeding doesn’t stop?” he asked the volunteers. “We’re going to go to the tourniquet.”
He acknowledged that most people do not feel comfortable about putting on a tourniquet.
He asked the volunteers why they’re afraid. They responded that they worried about stopping circulation and causing gangrene.
“I don’t want you guys to be afraid of putting on a tourniquet because someone’s going to lose their arm,” Fan told the volunteers, adding that in many cases the alternative is death and many times tourniquets are needed when an extremity already has been amputated.
With that, he demonstrated the proper way to apply a tourniquet before having the volunteers practice on each other.
As the first graduate of the CERT program, Mayor Smith told Behind the Badge that the course “exceeded my expectations.” She found the program to be very detailed, professional and helpful.
“It’s everyday skills that you can use,” she said, adding that it helps the city in a disaster situation because these are trained volunteers city and public safety workers can rely on. “It makes us a safer community.”