Disaster Preparedness Group Ready To Roll

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A snowstorm that knocks out power, a propane tanker that explodes making the turn at Highways 87 and East 260, a radioactive cloud from Palo Verde, a raging forest fire -- all potential disasters that could affect Payson.

"If we do ever have a major disaster in town, and we've come close a few times, the fire department and police will be so overwhelmed and they are not going to be able to get to everybody," Payson Fire Department Engineer/ Paramedic Gary Lamken said. "That's where a CERT comes in handy."

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The new Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is comprised of volunteers trained in disaster preparedness and response. The first group of 10 participants finished their eight-week training last week and had a final exam in which they had to respond to different, staged scenarios.

CERT stands for Community Emergency Response Team. The first 10 people in this Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)-sponsored program completed their eight-week training last week.

Lamken and Roger Kreimeyer coordinate the CERT program that trains those interested in disaster preparedness and appropriate responses to different scenarios.

"What it does is that in the event a disaster occurs, we trained the CERT people to go out in pairs and evaluate things and then report to an incident command center," Kreimeyer said. "They may do triage, check victims, evaluate injuries, extricate people -- even some fire suppression."

Kreimeyer, a Boy Scout leader, got involved in disaster response during the Rodeo/Chediski fire.

"We were asked to bring our Scout troops down to the evacuation center and help unload supplies coming in from the LDS Church store," Kreimeyer said. "When I got there, there were piles of supplies. They asked if I would stay and help distribute things."

Kreimeyer and his son spent the next 14 days at the center, assisting firefighters and evacuees.

"We were there at 4:30 in the morning and the Boy Scouts prepared breakfast for 500 firefighters and the evacuees," Kreimeyer said. "It was quite an experience."

The fire department later asked Kreimeyer to assist them with implementing the CERT program.

"They came to one of our Scout meetings and asked for somebody to get trained in the CERT program and I was encouraged to volunteer," Kreimeyer said.

Kreimeyer traveled to Flagstaff for training and, in the process, learned about the history of the CERT program.

"There was a Los Angeles City councilman who was over in Japan during an earthquake," Kreimeyer said. "He saw all these citizens jump up and they were doing all these rescue services. He learned they had community emergency response teams -- people trained to deal with minor search and rescue, fire suppression, medical attention, communications and setting up treatment areas. He brought this idea back to Los Angeles."

Kreimeyer said a subsequent earthquake in the Los Angeles area prompted government officials to fund a CERT program.

"It was not a big earthquake, but what surprised everyone is that it took 100 percent of the ambulances and half of the fire department," Kreimeyer said. "They thought, ‘we're going to be in big trouble if we have a major event in this area.' So they funded the program and it grew."

Then came "9/11," said Kreimeyer, and FEMA used the LA model to structure a similar national program.

"We will be training our second group after the first of the year," Kreimeyer said.

The CERT training not only teaches what volunteers should do in a disaster, but what not to do.

"During the Oklahoma City bombing, they put out a call to all medically-trained people to come down to the Murray building," Kreimeyer said. "One guy dropped off his wife who was a registered nurse, kissed her goodbye, and that's the last he saw of her. Some debris fell on her and killed her."

For their final class, CERT volunteers are faced with a variety of scenarios, including situations where they are trained to take no action.

"We do not want people endangering their lives," Kreimeyer said. "We do not replace professional services, we are simply there to assist or be the first responders until other help comes."

Besides responding when a disaster hits, the CERT volunteers are trained on ways to prepare for a disaster.

"They can look at homes or other places and correct problems before they become problems in a disaster," Kreimeyer said.

Having an evacuation plan, knowing how to shut off gas valves, and stocking supplies are a few of the preparations people can make before a disaster strikes.

"We teach people to be prepared for a disaster with 72-hour kits with things like water, food, and a battery-operated radio," Kreimeyer said.

Lamken said anyone willing to commit to the program is welcome to sign up for future training sessions.

"The training is two and a half hours a week for eight weeks," Lamken said. "No prior training is necessary."

For more information on the CERT program or to sign up for training, call 468-0984.

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