L.A. County Fire Department Engine 22, the great “Double Deuce” from Fire Station 22 serving the East Los Angeles area, showed up at Montebello Park Elementary School on Saturday morning for a special assignment. Normally, the mission of the engine and its crew is to protect lives, the environment, and property. On this day, the mission was training, not of firefighters but of community volunteers.
Over a dozen men, women, and even children gathered to learn basic disaster response skills under a federally approved, 20-hour Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program. The goal of the program is to build up a group of community members that can assist themselves and others following a natural or technological disaster or terrorist attack when professional responders may be overwhelmed and unable to help.
Since this is the first year that this type of training has been offered in this section of unincorporated East Los Angeles, you’d think that many people would have jump at the chance to get this sort of valuable instruction, right? As it turns out, fewer than half of those signed up actually showed up, according to Edgar Cisneros, a Senior Field Deputy for L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina.
Cisneros, who who previously went thru the training himself, said a previous session in East L.A. took place earlier in the year. Maggie Valdivia, Community Service Representative with the county fire service, said they’ve tried to set up sessions before, but interest was lacking. Now, more effort is apparently going into getting folks to know about this training. Recently, for example, Cisneros and staff provided info and gathered sign-ups for the CERT training at recent events in East L.A. like the Sail-a-thon in July.
What do CERT members learn? Well, over three Saturdays, attendees to the basic training review topics in disaster preparedness, medical triage, light search and rescue, fire hazards, and team-building exercises, among others. At the end of the course, they will do a hands-on disaster drill to apply their newly learned knowledge and skills to real-world scenarios. In short, it’s about survival.
Consider that a year ago in August 2012, an SUV crashed into a fire hydrant and light pole in the San Fernando Valley. That combination of circumstances proved deadly when two women, “good Samaritans” just trying to rescue the driver, were killed by electrocution. Fallen live electrical wires from the damaged light pole were electrifying the water that was spraying out from the damaged hydrant. The women ran into that situation with the best of intentions but apparently were unaware of the hazard.
Scenarios such as this one were discussed as part of the training provided on Saturday by Fire Station 22 crew members, including Firefighter Robert Palma, who drilled into CERT members that they had to immediately and methodically “size up” any fire or other emergency situation they may encounter for their own safety and that of others.
As part of the training, Palma reviewed various hazards, including potential hazards from fallen power lines. Were a CERT member to run into a deadly situation like the one just described, maybe the outcome would have been different without loss of life because of the member’s training. So, over and over, trainer Palma, a Navy veteran, emphasized that safety is a CERT member’s first priority.
There is plenty of space left for those wishing to attend the last two sessions on August 17, and 24. Valdivia with the county fire service said a “make up” class would be arranged for those missing a session and that those completing the required hours would get a certificate and an emergency preparedness back pack for carrying essential gear. Interested persons can contact Danielle Zapata, Office of Supervisor Gloria Molina, at (323) 881-4601.
C.J. Salgado is a resident of East Los Angeles