Volunteers help prepare for disasters; Local agencies train lay people to assist first responders


By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia

Public safety agencies across the Valley seek volunteers to help serve their communities — from giving assistance to victims on routine emergency calls to responding in the event of a major crisis.

To prepare for disasters, many fire departments and other agencies participate in the Community Emergency Response Team program, which is administered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and funded through grants from the Arizona Department of Homeland Security.

“The Community Emergency Response Team program educates volunteers about disaster preparedness for the hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations,” according to the program’s website: www.ready.gov.

Would-be FEMA Citizen Responders learn to assist first responders in a variety of roles, including promoting disaster preparedness and responding to hazardous situations.

The Surprise Fire-Medical Department this week announced they will host their next CERT program training classes in May.

“Becoming a CERT member is very rewarding and is one way in which residents can help themselves and others in the community,” stated Battalion Chief Julie Moore, a spokeswoman for SFMD. “While people will respond to others in need without the training, one goal of the CERT program is to help residents do so effectively and efficiently without placing themselves in unnecessary danger.”

Comprised of 24 class hours spread over eight sessions, the SFMD training will address several topics, inlcuding:

  • Disaster Preparedness training addresses hazards specific to the community and covers actions that participants and their families take before, during and after a disaster, as well as an overview of CERT and local laws governing volunteers.
  • Fire Suppression covers fire chemistry, hazardous materials, fire hazards and fire suppression strategies with a focus on the safe use of fire extinguishers, controlling utilities and extinguishing a small fire.
  • During Medical Operations Part I, participants practice diagnosing and treating airway obstruction, bleeding and shock by using simple triage and rapid treatment techniques.
  • Medical Operations Part II covers evaluating patients by doing a head-to-toe assessment, establishing a medical treatment area and performing basic first aid.
  • Light Search and Rescue Operations will teach participants about search-and-rescue planning, size-up, search techniques, rescue techniques and rescuer safety.
  • The Psychology and Team Organization session covers signs and symptoms that might be experienced by the disaster victim and workers, while addressing CERT organization and management.
  • And the Disaster Simulation sessions gives participants a chance to review and practice the skills they have learned during a simulated disaster activity.

The SFMD program is open to the public, not just Surprise residents; however, the materials and training provide may include some, which are Surprise-specific, Ms. Moore explained.

“The training is open to everyone. But all our paraphernalia (backpack, vest, etc.) says ‘Surprise Fire-Medical Department’ and we train our volunteers for situations that could arise in Surprise,” she stated.

All sessions must be completed for certification and makeup classes will not be offered, according the city’s press release.

The classes run 6-9 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and 8 a.m.-noon on Saturdays with sessions scheduled May 7, 9, 11, 14, 16 and 18 at the Surprise Fire-Medical Administration Building, 14250 W Statler Plaza, Suite 101, Surprise.

For more information or to register for the Surprise CERT training, call 623-222-5000.

Chandler CERT

The Chandler Fire Department will complete a session of CERT classes Saturday – the next training will be scheduled in the fall and officials will announce the dates as early as October, according to Battalion Chief Suzy Vargo, who oversees emergency management and planning preparedness for CFD.

She said her department’s training has evolved to emphasize a different approach than that encompassed in the standard curriculum.

“We’ve used the CERT curriculum to teach more of a self-prep course, so those in an emergency are better able to assist themselves and their families,” Ms. Vargo said. “Once we changed the emphasis, we got a greater response from the community.”

Chandler typically schedules a two-day course, which runs 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on consecutive Saturdays. Attendees learn how to administer first aid in situations, where a first aid kit or materials may not be readily available.

“They learn about medical and first aid items they can grab at home or where they are,” said Ms. Vargo. “Not everyone has a first aid kit when they need it, so we provide a more realistic approach for them to use what they have at hand in a crisis.”

The two-course also covers hands-only CPR, electric and gas safety, incident response, contacts to report suspected terrorist activities, how to respond to a building collapse, and how to assist first responders arriving at a scene.

The Chandler department also uses amateur radio enthusiasts who volunteer to provide a backup communications option in the event of a disaster or when cell networks may be overloaded.

“When you have a lot of people in one area relying on cell signal, the amateur radio operators can provide an additional layer of communications on a separate set of frequencies,” Ms. Vargo explained. “Amateur radio training is about redundancy, since the operate on separate frequencies and, in the event of a failure, we can communicate without interference.”

She said radio volunteers are usually recruited from among CERT program participants, but the department, which current has four active amateur radio operators volunteering, could use more help.

To learn more about CERT training, amateur radio volunteering and other opportunities, contact Ms. Vargo at suzanne.vargo@chandleraz.gov.

Other agencies across Arizona also provide CERT program, while state and local agencies may participate in other training opportunities, such as Fire Corps, Medical Reserve Corps, National Neighborhood Watch and Volunteers in Police Service programs.

To learn more, visit azdohs.gov/partner-programs.