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Bertolini awarded national CERT Distinguished Service Award

By Staff | Aug 23, 2018



A member of the Cape Coral Community Emergency Response Team was recognized for her outstanding contribution over a career of service to the community at the 2018 National CERT conference in Naples Thursday.

Dolores Bertolini was awarded the “Distinguished Service Award” for the everlasting impact she has made throughout the Cape Coral CERT chapter.

“This award really belongs to everybody,” Bertolini said. “The CERT people are dedicated. They work together. They’re a team.”

Bertolini and her husband moved to Cape Coral in 1985 from New York. She and Aldo wanted to get involved in the community and learn about the city they had just moved to.

They went to the fire department and heard about the potential for a CERT program that piqued their interest.

After a couple close calls with storms that could have done much more damage than they did, Bertolini and like-minded residents in the community got to work on how they could be better prepared for events like hurricanes.

In 1997,the Cape Coral CERT team was officially organized, the first of its kind in Southwest Florida, and would face its first major test in the form of Category 4 Hurricane Charley in 2004.

“That storm took us back. We learned a lot from that,” Bertolini said.

As a volunteer she helped people get off of the road during the storm and worked in the Emergency Operations Center, getting information out to different agencies across the city.

Her involvement would drastically grow after Charley, as well as the rest of the community’s, she recounted.

“We found out that we had a lot of work to do, but it worked,” Bertolini said of her feelings after Charley.

Now, CERT is a well oiled machine that it hyper-aware of what to do if impending storms are on their way.

“More often than not, if there’s an emergency, CERT will be there at the door. It’s always that way. It’s been that way in the 20 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen them there even before that first bulletin comes on,” she said.

CERT is qualified, through years of classes and role-playing scenarios, to be of service to their families, community partners and neighbors.

“The CERT program has elevated from a small idea, and continues to grow way beyond what I thought it could be,” she said.

If you want to be better educated and informed on what steps to take before a major disaster hits Southwest Florida, CERT is the program to join.

They offer classes in disaster preparedness, disaster fire suppression, disaster medical, light search and rescue, disaster psychology and team organization, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

The classes are endorsed and supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and endorsed by the State of Florida Emergency Management Division of the Department of Community Affairs and Lee County Emergency Management.

“If you get nothing else out of it, you’ll learn to take care of you,” she said. “I learned what to do, how to do it, and how to be prepared to do it and not wait until the last minute. So I didn’t have panic.”

She would go door to door checking on people, making sure each household had enough food and water and, if they didn’t, she would help provide them with some. Sometimes she’d get funny looks as to why a stranger was at their front door making sure they had enough to get by.

“They would say, ‘Oh, that’s nice, how much is that going to cost?’ And I would say, ‘Nothing, just a smile and a handshake is fine'” said Bertolini.

It is that kind of compassion that led her to be nationally recognized by CERT, which honored her for the many years and hours she has put in to make sure the community she subsequently also served as a council member, is prepared for a myriad of weather, or natural disasters one can experience in Florida.

She works closely with the Cape Coral Fire Department, which organizes the CERT program in the city, and was on City Council from 2005-09.

She’s even gone to other cities in Florida to see how their CERT programs work and what she could bring back to improve the Cape Coral chapter.

“The CERT program is reaching another plateau and will be far more advanced in the next five to 10 years’ we’re really on a roll. We show a lot of initiative and there’s interest in our group,” she said.

Bertolini is a big advocate for CERT and always tries to spread the word around Cape Coral.If you can give 10 hours out of your week, you should give it a shot, she said.

“Go up to the EOC and find out what it’s all about. Start getting into some training. It’ll help you personally, even if you don’t ultimately do it, you’re going to learn things to take care of you, in the event of (an emergency),” said Bertolini.

“I think it’s a great program. I think it does a lot for the city. The CERT people are dedicated and work together, they’re a team,” she said. “The businesses come right along with us, that’s the beauty of it. If you go into the EOC during a storm, and you see the business people and CERT people working together, you can really understand what camaraderie is all about. Nobody is richer, better, poorer; we’re all there for the same thing. To save the city, save ourselves, but help others while we’re doing it.”

Those interested in joining CERT Cape Coral, can contact Riley Tuff at 239-242-3608.

For more information on CERT, visit www.ready.gov/community-emergency-response-team.

Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj