The newest members of Irvine’s Community Emergency Response Team, commonly known as CERT, gave a variety of reasons for volunteering for the team, from desiring knowledge to wanting to be prepared in an emergency, to continuing a lifelong habit of helping the community in times of need.
When the CERT volunteers completed their eighth and final three-hour training session on May 23rd at the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) headquarters in Irvine, they had learned basic disaster response skills, which can be put into practice during any hazardous event or natural disaster.
The graduates are well versed in fire safety, performing light search and rescue, administering first aid and triaging victims, assisting police and firefighters during critical events when first responders are on the front lines.
Irvine’s CERT volunteers represent a partnership between OCFA and the Irvine Police Department. They receive training from both agencies.
“They are a huge piece of our success in firefighting,” said Captain Sean Doran, Public Information Officer for OCFA. “In this case, we need those leaders to step up in those communities so there is not chaos. They step in in a big way, as community members. We need these partnerships as much as the community does because at some point, we have to work together to make that natural disaster as mitigated as possible.”
Irvine’s CERT volunteers might be called on to direct traffic in their neighborhoods, stack and distribute sandbags, perform light search and rescue, or bring food and resources to firefighters working long hours to contain a fire. CERT members also attend community gatherings to educate the public on measures residents can take to keep their homes and neighborhoods safe.
“For me it was to know … just to get knowledge,” said graduate Fred Lau of Irvine, a retired physician and first-time CERT volunteer. “And I don’t want to be the guy who is not prepared, that is clueless about things, so this class has taught me a tremendous amount. It’s also motivated me to (be prepared) with my own safety supplies and my prep kits.”
Graduate Vicki Matchett, 63, is a CERT volunteer for the second time. Matchett, who was previously a CERT member with the Riverside Fire Department, said “I am all about helping.”
“I was an old Girl Scout and I never changed,” said Matchett, who also volunteers for the Southern California Council on Aging in the Financial Abuse Division. “I have food, supplies, boots in the car. I can help my neighbors. I can help myself.”
On the final day of training, CERT members were taught how to use a fire extinguisher and the proper way to communicate on a two-way radio. The trainees also practiced the technique of cribbing – constructing a temporary wooden object to slightly elevate a heavy object in order to extricate a trapped victim.
Another test involved searching for volunteer “victims” in a dark building and then triaging each victim to determine which ones needed immediate medical attention and which ones could wait. Previous sessions have focused on hazardous materials, fire suppression and turning off utilities such as gas and electricity during a disaster.
Current CERT member Julie London played the role of an injured victim for a search and rescue test.
“I know how much it helped me when I was graduating, to have a very realistic stressful situation,” London said. “That’s when you want to make the mistake, so you can correct it, so when the real thing happens, you’ve already been there and done that and you are more prepared.”
Roughly 3,000 community members have graduated Irvine’s CERT training over the 15 years of the program, Irvine Police Department CERT coordinator Christine Tully said. There are currently about 2,000 CERT volunteers in the city who can be called into action quickly if needed, Tully said.
CERT members in Irvine must live or work in the city and undergo a live scan, Tully said.
“There is a place for everyone,” she said. “There is always something you can do.”
Twenty Orange County cities have a CERT program. Anyone wanting more information on CERT or to find your local CERT contact, visit ReadyOC at readyoc.com/cert-partners.