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In the event of a disaster, both natural or unnatural or an emergency in Jefferson County, a group of volunteers have pledged to step forward during crises and take action when disaster strikes.
That group of volunteers is known as the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), and are based out of the Jefferson County Emergency Management (JCEM) center.
Typically, CERT volunteers can be counted on to work alongside the county’s first responders - such as firefighters, EMT and law enforcement officers - in order to respond to any disaster that strikes Jefferson County. As such, adults tend to make up the majority of any CERT program. These adults might assist in search-and-rescue operations, light fire suppression, operating disaster shelters, providing on-scene medical care and tending to victims of the disaster.
However, after Thursday, Aug. 29, there is a new addition to the county’s CERT program, as several youth volunteers have joined the program, offering up their time and service to help protect Jefferson County.
According to JCEM Director Paula Carroll, the county’s CERT program opened a new volunteer training session on Tuesday, Aug. 13, and several teenagers expressed interest in joining the program.
The interest of these younger citizens prompted the JCEM to launch their own Teen CERT plan – a program that is geared towards training younger volunteers for disaster response and is supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The training for these young CERT volunteers began in the classroom, where they learned how to identify and anticipate hazards, how to reduce the threat of fires in their home or school and how to assist in lowering survivor stress. The classroom sessions also included visits from other emergency professionals from Jefferson and Taylor Counties, who instructed the Teen CERT volunteers on how to treat injuries and set up medical treatment areas or control fires.
In particular, Carroll spoke highly of Jefferson County Fire Rescue (JCFR) Chief Derrick Burrus and his contribution to instructing the young volunteers.
“Chief Burrus was very involved,” said Carroll. “He really helped them understand fire and medical.”
The training for these young volunteers concluded on Thursday, Aug. 29, with an in-the-field, hands-on training session at the JCFR station.
A total of 12 volunteers (three adults and nine youth) made it out for the Thursday training course, where they were first given a tour of the JCFR station.
Afterward, volunteers completed their training tests to ensure they were ready to take the next step in becoming CERT volunteers: hands-on search-and-rescue, triage and fire suppression practice.
Under the guidance of Jefferson County firefighters and experienced CERT volunteers, the CERT trainees were instructed on how to search a structure and retrieve lost individuals, how to extinguish fires and how to conduct light triage.
The training session was also bolstered by the presence of Taylor County CERT volunteer and moulage artist Linda Pinson, who painted moulage wounds on several volunteers in order to simulate injuries for the trainees' triage education.
After their training course had ended, the youth and adult trainees were officially added to the roster of CERT volunteers in Jefferson County.
Despite the extensive training, Carroll remarked that youth volunteers will not be called upon to assist in openly dangerous positions.
“They will not be put in harm’s way,” said Carroll, adding that most Teen CERT volunteers provide respite to adult volunteers through water distribution during emergencies or assisting directly with operations at the Emergency Management office during disaster preparedness. Teen volunteers also play a crucial role in spreading information about CERT, aiding in disaster shelter operations and running check-in booths during search-and-rescue activities.
The extensive training session that concluded their classes was, Carroll said, mainly to help the youth trainees understand what goes into being a CERT volunteer. Even though the young volunteers might be years away from actively playing a role in first-hand involvement in disaster response, she felt as though they needed to understand the tactics of searching for lost individuals or handling emergency medical care.
“They will do a lot, but nothing that endangers them,” concludes Carroll.
Interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities with Jefferson County CERT? Contact the Jefferson County Emergency Management office at (850) 342-0211.