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CERT class passes final exam, earns graduation

By Staff | Feb 18, 2009

“It is Saturday, June 20, 2009 at 2:30 in the morning. The weather has been rain all day with strong thunderstorms becoming more frequent as the night progressed. There has been a tornado warning in effect since 3 p.m. Friday afternoon.

“The CERT team has been activated after a tornado touchdown is reported in the area of Lindgren and East Gulf Drive. The Sanibel Fire & Rescue has established a command center at Periwinkle and Lindgren. All of their resources are busy, including all firefighters and chief officers. Sanibel Police is also involved in the rescue efforts.”

Thankfully for all islanders, the above scenario is strictly a conjured-up disaster simulation created for the benefit of Sanibel’s first CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) class, who completed their final examination last Wednesday night before receiving their certificates of graduation.

However, the scenario still remains a possibility. And if it does occur, members of the CERT squad will be ready.

Immediately after Assistant Chief Matt Scott described the details of the disaster simulation, the 10 members of Sanibel’s first CERT class – Connie and Darrell Cady, Bruce Cochrane and Lisa Newmeyer-Cochrane, Douglas Deitrich, John Elting, John Friedland, Billy Kirkland, John Morse and David Meunch – spring into action.

Kirkland, acting as team leader, dispatches Team 1 to the Fire Station #1’s training tower, where a “victim” has been trapped by a collapsed wall. Team 2 and 3 are dispatched to the facility’s bay area, where other “victims” are acting out a simulation of a smoke-filled house.

Inside the bay, in nearly total darkness, the sounds of desperate “victims” – portrayed by volunteers from the island’s Medical Reserve Corps – cry out for help. One “victim” appears to be unconscious. Another repeats “Help me! Help me!” over and over again. Another appears unhurt, but cannot remember his name. It is chaotic.

“The first thing I wanted to do was to take a second and see who needed our help the most, instead of just rushing in there,” recalled Connie Cady. “The class was really interesting because you learn so much about what needs to be done in those situations.”

The simulation also included training with fire extinguishers, as each member of the CERT squad was required to put out a live fire in the proper manner, using the techniques taught to them by Ron Ritchie, who runs the Fire & Rescue’s public education course.

“You’ve got to approach that fire and be wary that there could be a wind shift,” said Ritchie. “If that wind changes, that fire could be right up in your face.”

Following the simulation, all of the CERT members and volunteer “victims” met with Scott to discuss what the team did right, wrong or could improve upon. One of the 13 Medical Reserve Corps members said that he was impressed with the way he was tended to.

“They immediately noticed that I was lying in an unnatural position,” he said. “They stabilized my neck, raised my head and feet and even gave me a blanket to prevent me from going into shock.”

“You did everything correctly for that victim,” Scott praised the graduates. “Overall, I was very happy with everything I saw.”

The next CERT class will be held starting on April 1, continuing for nine consecutive Wednesday evenings from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Interested participants should call the Sanibel Fire & Rescue District at 472-5525 or visit www.sanibelfire.com for additional information.