CERT volunteers are trained for emergencies

Members of the town’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) manned an information table in front of town hall in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene. They have since provided services after other weather events like Superstorm Sandy. In back, from left, are Mary Maday, Rachel Sanderson and Pat Rohe. Seated is Bob Spear. At left is Paul Losacco, another CERT member. —Susan Wolf photo

If you went to the Redding Community Center after Superstorm Sandy, a CERT volunteer offered you water and Meals Ready to Eat.

If you needed to take a shower during the massive power outage in Redding following Tropical Storm Irene, a CERT volunteer was there to greet you.

If you needed potable water after any of the recent storms and power outages, a CERT volunteer was available to assist you.

The list goes on, but many people don’t even know who those people are in the lime-green vests with CERT inscribed across the back. They are the town volunteers who make up the Community Emergency Response Team. They are the volunteers whose training includes first aid, CPR, fire safety, traffic control, search and rescue, the incident command system (ICS), animal sheltering, and other topics associated with disaster response.

CERT was first organized in 2006 to train volunteers to provide support to first responders, assist residents in need and help in the operation of a shelter or townwide mass medication dispensing clinic. All of these responsibilities are still jobs the CERT members perform, and much more.

Most recently, local CERT volunteers have had emergency response roles following Tropical Storm Irene, Alfred, a nor’easter in 2011, and Superstorm Sandy and another nor’easter this past year.

Doug Hartline, the town’s health officer, co-emergency management coordinator and CERT organizer, is once again seeking new members for CERT, which now has 25 active members.

Volunteering for CERT is a way to get involved in the town and to help out, said Mr. Hartline. He said it is also an opportunity to learn skills like CPR and first aid.

“CERT varies from town to town,” he said, noting that Redding is rural, with needs different from those of a city. “We try to train to fit Redding and the circumstances we might face,” he said. Redding is mostly impacted by severe weather issues, like power outages, he said.

He remembers reading something that goes like this: “When somebody might be feeling down, his mother would say, ‘Go help someone,’ and that’s true,” said Mr. Hartline. “You also get to meet the chief of police, firefighters and EMTs, and others in town.”

Mary Maday had a very simple reason for her involvement in CERT: “I believe it is important to give back to the community where I live, and CERT has allowed me to do that.”

The late Jean Adler’s spirit of volunteerism “set a standard that is difficult to match, and she was influential in my joining the CERT team. She was always enthusiastic and ready to do whatever was needed, no matter how difficult or easy,” said Ms. Maday.

Paul Losacco, a CERT member, helped out during Tropical Storm Irene and continues to volunteer his services. —Susan Wolf photo

A member of several years, Ms. Maday said she had no experience in the field  before joining CERT but found the training and classes have been helpful not only for her role in CERT but also as a community member.

“CERT offered me the opportunity to help others, to provide assistance and help when needed. Call it a ‘random act of kindness,’ you never know who you might be helping next,” she said.

Mr. Hartline’s philosophy, she said, is to only do what you are comfortable with, and your safety and your family’s safety comes first, and then you help others. “There is a role for anyone willing to help,” Ms. Maday said.

Mark Stern is not your typical CERT member. He did not join the team with limited knowledge of emergency response but rather brought with him 30 years of experience in various communities in Florida, California and Fairfield, Conn., as a reserve police officer. When he moved to Redding in 2008, he said, there was no similar program for him to join.

But with 30 years of volunteerism behind him, Mr. Stern said, he wanted to get involved in his community here, so he joined the local CERT. He helps all of the instructors, he said, and is certified to teach the incident command system. He’s also had many first aid and CPR courses over the years and helps others in this area.

‘We try to incorporate the training of new people with the re-training of older members,” said Mr. Stern. “I always try to learn something new.

“This is a great program,” he said about CERT. “It allows people to get involved, to be prepared for a disaster. It’s good for the town.”

Jane Hamilton-Merritt is no stranger to the need to be prepared for an emergency response. “My involvement began in my head after 9/11,” she said, recalling how she had been a war zone correspondent and knew what it was like to be under attack and how quickly it could happen. She saw how unprepared some were during these times.

When 9/11 happened, Ms. Hamilton-Merritt suggested to First Selectman Natalie Ketcham that the town should have a citizen preparedness group. She was informed that the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security was interested in setting up what are now CERTs in local communities.

Ms. Hamilton-Merritt and her son Schuyler were among the members of the charter CERT group in Redding, as were Ms. Adler and Bob Spears.

“The training is rigorous,” said Ms. Hamilton-Merritt. Sometimes the tasks can be hard as well.

Ms. Hamilton-Merritt recalled Ms. Ketcham’s request before Tropical Storm Irene hit that CERT volunteers help clean storm drains to prevent flooding. On her way to town hall for her assignment, Ms. Hamilton-Merritt counted 10 drains (later discovering there were 18) along Cross Highway. She and another CERT volunteer cleaned all of them.

Ms. Hamilton-Merritt has helped at the Barlow shelter, has handed out water and Meals Ready to Eat with fellow CERT member Cass Miguel, and has provided to residents information prepared by Candy Wood, the town’s public information officer, and Mr. Hartline.

“In terms of a community service, this is a critical one,” said Ms. Hamilton-Merritt. “You never know when your piece of town is under great stress. If you are trained and a neighbor is trained, and there is a disaster and you can’t get out of your neighborhood, you can still offer the same services and skills in your part of the community.”

The community “needs to know that skills from CERT can be used at home, in your section of town and in the whole community,” she said. “Some people say they don’t have the time, but the skills are worth the time getting them, and what better way than as a CERT trainee,” Ms. Hamilton-Merritt said.

CERT training has also inspired some members to take additional training, said Ms. Hamilton-Merritt. Her son Schuyler went on to become a firefighter and EMR at Redding Fire and EMS Co. #1 (The Ridge).

Another CERT member, David Rehder, became an EMT and is now an ambulance EMT for Danbury Hospital, a Western Connecticut Health Care affiliate. He works for the hospital but is an employee of the city of Danbury, answering 911 calls out of the hospital, Mr. Rehder explained. He was Advanced EMT of the Year in 2012 and is now an emergency medical instructor, teaching EMT classes at the hospital.

Mr. Rehder, an actor in New York City, moved to Redding in 2007 and wanted to get involved in the community. He saw an ad for CERT and took the classes, particularly enjoying the class on fire police. At Mr. Hartline’s suggestion, he went to the West Redding Fire Department and soon joined, eventually taking the EMT course. He is now a lieutenant on the ambulance and is also a firefighter.

“I hated the EMT class, but somehow I made it through,” he said. He started going to Fire Department meetings and as an EMT responded to calls. He then took the advanced EMT class.

“By coming into CERT and getting involved in the community, it changed my life,” said Mr. Rehder. “Doug runs a great program. I wish more people would get involved, because you never know where it will go.”

Mr. Rehder said through CERT you get to meet people, learn new things and skills to help people. He called CERT “a great community asset, and people should not be afraid to go with it.”

CERT is offering a new certification course of four classes starting on Thursday, Feb. 28. Anyone interested in learning more or signing up is asked to call Mr. Hartline at the Redding Health Department at 203-938-2559 or email him at [email protected]

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