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County to train emergency teams

December 12, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

Members of Community Emergency Response Teams will not be asked to battle a major fire or search a heavily damaged building for survivors, but they can free the hands of those with the training to perform those dangerous tasks during a disaster.

Fulton County already has trained 92 people to serve as members of Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), enough for a team in each of its 13 municipalities, according to Lisa Sherman, the county's emergency management director.

Franklin County is gearing up to join the program, with the first training sessions to begin next year, Emergency Management Coordinator Don Eshleman said.

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"The first classes will be for training the trainers," Eshleman said.

Training those who will instruct CERT volunteers likely will begin in February.

Eshleman has been contacted by five people about becoming instructors since the county announced Tuesday it had appointed a Citizens Corps Council to coordinate volunteer efforts that support homeland security.

Eshleman said he met Wednesday with representatives from about 10 churches and organizations that have an interest in becoming part of the CERT program.

"It could be a municipality, it could be a Ruritan, it could be a Scout troop or members of a retirement community," County Commissioner Cheryl Plummer said Thursday. CERT is open to almost any individual or group willing to serve, she said.

"It's kind of like the old civil defense days in a way," Plummer said of the citizens organized during World War II to bolster domestic security.

In a disaster, CERT team members may provide assistance before the arrival of police, fire or ambulance personnel, helping with traffic control, evacuating neighborhoods and organizing people. They could man canteens at disaster scenes or staff a Red Cross shelter, Eshleman said.

Eshleman said CERT volunteers already have been put to work supporting firefighters battling wildfires in the West. Volunteers in Mechanicsburg, Pa., recently were used to help with crowd and traffic control at a parade.

"Realistically, one team in every community would be a good benchmark to look at," Franklin County Director of Emergency Services Jerry Flasher said. Franklin County has 15 townships and seven boroughs.

Sherman said the Fulton County volunteers include township officials, state transportation workers and county staff, but many are residents interested in being prepared to deal with natural or man-made disasters in their communities.

One of them is Helen Layton of Brush Creek Township. A former emergency medical technician, she completed training just a few weeks ago and has put it to use twice.

The first time involved a father and son killed when a tree fell on their vehicle and Layton helped direct emergency resources to the scene from her home. Two days later, she found herself directing traffic when several more fallen trees blocked the same road.

"Don't just run to the scene. Get yourself prepared," was one lesson Layton learned in training.

Layton said she saw how effective the team training was when they took part in a mock disaster involving a bus crash with injuries.

"Everybody knew basically what to do ... The instructor said we did a fantastic job," Layton said.

Last week, Fulton County hosted a recognition dinner for the volunteers attended by David Sanko, the director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, Sherman said.

Volunteers take a 20-hour training course that includes instruction in disaster preparedness, fire suppression, basic disaster medical operations, light search and rescue work, disaster psychology and team organization, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines.

Those who complete the training will be supplied with a hard hat, reflective vest, goggles, backpack, weather alert radio, gloves, flashlight, a multi-tool knife, first aid kit and other equipment, Eshleman said.

"This is stuff most people have around the house," Flasher said. "We just want to make sure it's together" when needed.

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