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Berryessa CERT Gets a Running Start

Updated: Sep 12, 2019

We did it! Congratulations to the January 2019 Napa County CERT Academy class.

What is CERT? That was my first question when I first heard about the program in a Fire Council meeting I was attending. I'd never heard of the program and was interested to learn more. Explanations followed about how the program was called the Community Emergency Response Team and was a great training class on disaster preparedness skills.

After some research on the internet, I found out that the CERT program started in Los Angeles, California when officials from LA traveled to Japan in 1985 to study disaster response plans. Japan had neighborhood-based training programs that focused on fire suppression, light search and rescue, first aid or evacuations. The LA group also traveled to Mexico City after a magnitude 8.1 earthquake that killed more than 10,000 people but observed groups of volunteer that conducted search and rescue and were credited with saving over 800 people but over 100 volunteers died in the effort.

Los Angeles officials determined that disaster preparedness training was a valuable resource and trained their first class of thirty people in 1986. In 1987, following the Whittier Narrows earthquake, LA created a unit with the Fire Department to develop, train, and maintain a network of Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs). In 1993, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) worked with the LAFD and EMI to make the program available nationwide.

I've always enjoyed learning new skills and was CPR and AED certified so I contacted the Napa County program manager, Ken Arnold, and signed up for the January 2019 class. The class was free and was scheduled for two consecutive Saturdays from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm with a final exercise on the following Sunday from 8:00 am to noon.

I'd never heard of the CERT program before so I didn't know what to expect. The skills I learned in the CERT class ignited my desire to help my community by educating them in disaster preparedness. - Shelly van Rijn, CERT Graduate & Berryessa CERT Team Leader

The day of the first class arrived, and I quickly got ready, not really knowing what to expect. Was it going to be a lot of physical training or a lot of classroom work? I was eager to find out.

Arriving at our local volunteer fire station in Capell Valley, I signed in and took a seat at one of the rows of tables laid out. I counted nineteen other attendees with me in the class. Right on time, Ken Arnold, one of the trainers and the Napa County CERT program manager, introduced himself and explained the scope of what the CERT class would train us to do. He outlined that we would learn basic disaster response skills in fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations.

What We Learned

Throughout the two Saturdays, both of our trainers, Ken Arnold and firefighter Kent Barnes, were patient, funny and taught us a ton of information. We learned about the Incident Command System (ICS), disaster psychology, basic first aid and the new Stop the Bleed program just to name a few.

We were given CERT participant manuals with a wealth of information packed into them for all types of hazards and the best ways of dealing with them. Both Saturdays went by in a blur as I packed my head with all of the new information I was learning. We learned who to use blocks of wood as cribbing to rescue someone trapped in rubble and safely get the victim out while staying safe ourselves. We even trained on the proper way to use a fire extinguisher in a two man team on a live mobile fire training unit.

Sunday was the simulated disaster training exercise. Could we put everything we'd learned in the class to use as we worked together as a team for the first time? We could and we did. Were we perfect in our execution? No, but our trainers were there to keep us safe and give us feedback at the end of the exercise on how we could improve.

With CERT certificates in hand, you can see our smiles of pride at what we accomplished and the new friends we made. This class was just the beginning for me as CERT training ignited my desire to educate my community in disaster preparedness. Our Lake Berryessa area is a rural and beautiful community and together we'll work to prepare for when disasters strike. We've survived several wildfires. We can do this.

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