There is no truer test of human nature than when disaster strikes, whether by natural or man-made forces.
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The United States is no stranger to disaster.
Fortunately, history has shown that we are a country blessed to have so many willing to put themselves in the line of danger and to later help in the recovery efforts. But what happens when those responsible for those tasks are not readily available or cannot fully meet the demands of the situation?
It is during those times of need when groups like the Pollock Pines Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) step in and take action.
The Pollock Pines CERT group is one of several groups comprising the El Dorado County CERT program.
Team Lead Bob Todd, of Pollock Pines, has been at the helm of the Pollock Pines CERT group since 2006 when the group first began. Todd is currently retired after years of service to the California Department of Fish and Game as a chemist.
The CERT program initially began in southern California with the Los Angeles City Fire Department in 1985. The purpose of the program was to train citizens in preparedness for different situations, giving them the tools and knowledge to better assist themselves and others in the event of an emergency.
The training was made available nationally in 1993 by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and currently, communities in 28 states and Puerto Rico provide CERT training to its citizens.
The training for CERT volunteers is a very specific and focused range of topics and situations.
“The program runs on a nationwide basis, however, and everyone is trained the same so that if we ever get called out of the county we can interface with everyone else,” Todd said.
In general, the training for major disasters starts with emergency preparedness and continues on with incident command systems, fire safety in the home, how to respond to fires, medical operations such as the triage of patients and basic first aid, how to prepare for terrorism, traffic control, light search and rescue as well as training to know what certain building damage looks like in order to know when it is safe go to into a building and when it is best to avoid entering a building.
“We are also trained in disaster psychology,” Todd said. “Of course it is going to affect us seeing all of that stuff so we are trained to be ready for a support group after certain situations.”
Todd said the Pollock Pines group currently has 26 volunteers on its roster, 15 of whom are constant participants. Being a volunteer group, the majority of the members are retired; some members are still part of the workforce, however, showing that others who are still working can still be part of this community-focused volunteer organization.
The basic training is required of all citizens interested in being a volunteer CERT member. To continue on after the training, the person must have a background check and fingerprint check done before a CERT card will be issued and that person can join a team.
“Our team has monthly meetings and we always do some kind of training at the meetings,” Todd said. “These ongoing trainings run anywhere from hand radios to advanced medical first aid.”
Luckily for El Dorado County, not many disasters have plagued the area requiring the assistance of the CERT volunteers.
Todd said the only large scale emergency for the Pollock Pines team was the Angora fire near South Lake Tahoe in 2007.
“For us, as the fire went through the neighborhoods and people wanted to get back into their houses, the fire department had CERT members manning different posts and road blocks in order to check I.D.’s to make sure people had an address that matched that area,” Todd said.
As the group remains on standby for any emergency or major disaster to hit the area, they are available for community help.
The Pollock Pines CERT group helps with traffic control and different aspects of the Pollock Pines Fourth of July Parade, Pollock Pines Clean-up days, National Night Out, Pollock Pines Christmas Tree Lighting and different school/non-profit events in the community.
Francesca DuChamp, 53, of Pollock Pines has been witness to the work of the Pollock Pines CERT group in more ways than one. Not only does she see firsthand how they operate at community events like the National Night Out celebration, she continuously attends meetings in the community as her own way of giving back and being involved in the safety of her community.
She said the CERT group is very meticulous in the planning of their tasks at an event and that they are quick to respond to any issues or problems presented.
“I think the community is very fortunate to have people like the CERT group available in times of need— they are trained (very well) to have an event go smoothly and in a way where families can safely just enjoy themselves,” DuChamp said. “Families in this day just need to enjoy themselves and children, in particular, need to just have fun. The CERT group cares about these ideas. They are the guardians who watch over the rest of us when we take a moment to play.”
Anyone interested in becoming a member of the Pollock Pines CERT group or the other El Dorado County CERT groups, the next CERT Academy will be taking place in April.
The Academy totals 24 hours of training over a four-day period. Dates and times are:
Friday, April 12 from 6 to 10 p.m. — Emergency Preparedness and the CERT Organization; Saturday, April 13 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Fire Safety and Medical Operations; Friday, April 19 from 6 to 10 p.m. — Light Search and Rescue and Disaster Psychology; and Saturday, April 20 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Terrorism, a Course Review and a Disaster Simulation.
Those interested in signing up for the academy and starting a journey as a CERT group member, or for more information on the training, contact El Dorado County Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Cathey in the Office of Emergency Services at 530-621-7660 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.