Tonawanda News

October 8, 2012

Ready for anything

Town CERT program going strong, seeking trainees

By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — When disaster strikes, there are two types of people ... those who are prepared, and those who aren’t. 

And as far as the Town of Tonawanda is concerned, the more people in the former category, the better.

Toward that goal, the town will again offer its free Community Emergency Response Team training starting Oct. 15, said town paramedic Robert Lutz, coordinator of CERT.

“There has to be a level of citizen preparedness,” Lutz said. “Every disaster is local. The federal government is not going to be on your doorstep to take over by day two. Neither will the state, for that matter.

“That’s what this program does. If they leave and never come back, but have the knowledge to be better prepared at all ... we’ve done our job. That’s one less for us to worry about.”

The nine-class course will run from 6 to 9 p.m. Mondays, with a fire safety session from 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 27 and a Saturday course review and simulated disaster training exercise Dec. 1. Classes will meet at the town Fire Training Tower classroom at 70 Fire Tower Drive off Two Mile Creek Road. 

Participants must attend all sessions, which include both academic and hands-on instruction. They must be at least 16 years old; there is no upper age limit. The course is also open to residents of the City of Tonawanda, Kenmore and Grand Island.

The Town of Tonawanda was one of the first communities in Western New York to start a local CERT program. Since it began in 2004, nearly 400 people have been trained, Lutz said. That’s 400 people — and their families — that might not be overloading town police or paramedics in the case of an emergency.

John Moffat, chairperson of Tonawanda CERT, became interested in the program after a 2007 expo entitled “No More Surprises,” at Hoover Middle School, a reaction to the 2006 October storm. Within a year, he went through the training, and was elected chairperson in 2010.

“After 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, FEMA decided to train community volunteers on how to respond in emergency situations ... how to take care of yourself, take care of your family, take care of your neighbors, take care of your community,” he said. “There was such a flood of demand to first responders that they didn’t have the people to deal with it.

“That’s primarily what the training is all about, some degree of ability to provide communication to first responders so they can know where hotspots are, where the greatest need is.”

In the case of an emergency, he said, the CERT label tells other citizens and emergency responders that this group has been trained to assist in a meaningful way.

“We try to lend some credibility so it isn’t just a bunch of volunteers in little costumes and helmets running around,” he said. “So there’s some reassurance that when CERT members turn up, these people have been trained, they know how to work as a team. You check your ego at the door and you’re there to help.”

The FEMA-approved program educates trainees about community hazards, including natural disasters and terrorism risks, and prepares them for functions including fire safety, light search and rescue, disaster medical operations, automated external defibrillator use, extinguishing small fires, utilities control, donations management, treating injuries, community relations, debris removal, special needs concerns, CPR skills, advanced first aid and shelter management. 

Lutz said that while CERT training prepares people for disasters, the skills also extend to everyday emergencies.

“When we talk about fire prevention ... we talk about how to prevent out a fire in your own home ... at any time,” he said. “It always helps to be confident in an emergency. A lot of these things are good for every day of your life.”

After the October 2006 storm, CERT trainees assisted in a number of ways, Lutz said: Some worked in a call center, while others opened a shelter at Hoover Middle School. But the most profound impact on that incident’s aftermath is something that can’t be quantified, he said.

“What we don’t know is how many people didn’t call 911 ... because they were prepared.”

The town CERT program currently has more than 150 volunteers on its email list, although hundreds more have gone through the training. While opportunities for further training and community involvement exist for those trainees, Lutz said, there’s no commitment made by attending the program.

“Some people come to training ... and we never see or hear from them again,” he said. “That doesn’t make  me feel bad at all. Our goal is just to train as many people in preparedness as we can.”

IF YOU GO • WHAT: Town of Tonawanda Community Emergency Response Team training • WHEN: Nine sessions starting Oct. 15 and running from 6 to 9 p.m. Mondays, with a fire safety session from 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 27 and a Saturday course review and simulated disaster training exercise Dec. 1. • WHERE: Classes will meet at the town Fire Training Tower classroom at 70 Fire Tower Drive off Two Mile Creek Road. • COST: Free • MORE INFO: Visit www.tonawanda.ny.us, click on the emergency services link and select CERT. You can also email tonawandanycert@gmail.com, attention Robert Lutz, CERT coordinator; or call Dennis Carson, town emergency services coordinator, at 879-6685.