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Citizens, city employees team up for SSI training

By Staff | Aug 31, 2011

Amy Hoyt, center, GIS coordinator for the Lee County Property Appraiser's offices, gives instruction to a pair of Structural Safety Inspector (SSI) trainees last week at the Sanibel Recreation Center.

Last Thursday, 21 people – both private citizens and city employees – gathered at the Sanibel Recreation Center to take part in the latest Structural Safety Inspector (SSI) seminar, learning the basics which may help them become among the first responders to an emergency or natural disaster.

According to Harold Law, a building official with the City of Sanibel and leader of the SSI training session, the purpose of the structural safety teams is to initially assess the overall property damage on the island prior to allowing residents to return followed by a completed written external damage report for each single or multi-family structure as to its condition for occupancy.

On Aug. 25, this year’s third class of SSI trainees spent the day engaged in first aid and CPR-AED certification courses, learned what apparel they should be prepared to wear if activated following a disaster, what personal preparations they must make and the essential functions for each member of the response teams.

Prior to the final session, City Manager Judie Zimomra and Chief of Police Bill Tomlinson spoke briefly with the trainees, each emphasizing the importance of working cooperatively with other emergency responders and being prepared at a moment’s notice.

“Damage assessment is a much more important component to emergency response for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) now,” Zimomra explained. “We just can’t do what we did after Hurricane Charley.”

Trainees entered important emergency details onto remote information-gathering devices, like this Panasonic Toughbook, purchased by the city after Hurricane Charley.

Zimomra also stressed the importance of private citizens working in tandem with city employees, whose job duties are often reassigned to higher priority tasks following a disaster.

Emergency calls to action include not only hurricanes but tornadoes – which are often triggered by tropical storm activity – flooding and wildfires.

“You’re gonna have to be on your ‘A’ game,” she added. “And mentally, you have to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.”

Tomlinson also informed the group that during emergency preparations and response, all requests for information by the media should be cleared through his office.

“Your primary objective and goal is to get the work done that needs to be done for the city,” he said.

Computer Support Specialist Brad Gloer assists SSI trainees during last week's seminar.

Among the trainees taking part in last week’s SSI seminars were several city employees, including Crystal Mansell, executive assistant to the City Manager, and Dave DeFonzo, youth program coordinator for the Recreation Department, as well as Michael Valiquette, chairman of the Planning Commission.

“The importance of disaster readiness and preparedness on a barrier island community cannot be overstated,” said Mansell. “Our ultimate goal is to get our residents and businesses back to their homes and offices as safely and quickly as possible where they can begin the task of recovery.”

While Law estimated that about 60 city employees and island residents took part in this year’s SSI training sessions, only a percentage of that group will become official inspectors. He would like to see additional people sign up for future training because, as he put it, “You can never have enough hands when an emergency happens.”

Applicants successfully completing the training, certification, physical and drug screen will be reimbursed $25 per hour for the time involved, not to exceed eight hours. Upon activation in the event of a disaster, the rate of pay will be $50 per hour.

Law suggested that a basic knowledge of building construction is essential. Applicants should be in excellent physical condition as actual work will require extensive walking under potentially arduous conditions in a hot and humid climate. They must also be able to respond immediately upon call and write reports of damage assessed.

Sanibel's City Manager Judie Zimomra, center, speaks to a group of SSI trainees. Also pictured is Chief of Police Bill Tomlinson, left.

Among the specialties or skills participants should possess, but are not limited to, include:

Electrical

Plumbing

Carpentry

Masonry and/or concrete work

Selected personnel will be required to complete approximately six hours of field training to include first aid and CPR-AED. A physical examination, drug test and background check will also be required at no cost to the selected personnel.

Interested parties should forward their resume to Harold Law, Building Official, City of Sanibel, 800 Dunlop Road, Sanibel, FL 33957. For additional information about the SSI program, call 472-4555.