You Can't Predict

But You Can Prepare!

What Is CERT?

CERT is the Community Emergency Response Team. The program was developed by the Los Angeles Fire Department to address the difficult reality that in a major disaster the Fire Department will quickly become overwhelmed. It's likely that we citizens will be on our own for three days or more. So the LAFD created a program to teach everyday citizens how to take care of themselves and their neighbors until official help arrives. With classes like search & rescue, triage, hazardous materials, and fire fighting, graduates are well prepared to be part of the solution and not add to the problem. The program was so successful (LAFD has taught CERT to something like 70,000 Los Angeles residents) that FEMA adopted it and offers it nationwide through their Citizen Corps program. Actually, the program is taught all over the world. Level Two is an exposure to the Red Cross Shelter Operations. Level Three is advanced first aid. The program I took was about 80-hours of pretty intense first aid training. Unlike an EMT course, this training, technically called First Responder or Emergency Medical Responder training, concentrates on working out of a backpack as opposed to the ambulance on which EMTs center their capabilities. We learned everything from CPR to delivering babies. It was a difficult but incredibly rewarding course. I've since taken the course again to reinforce the training. For more information on LAFD CERT, check out the CERT-LA web site

What is the LAFD CERT Call-out Team

It comes as no surprise that Los Angeles has more than it's share of disasters. We also have a tremendous amount of local emergencies. Many times, the Fire Department gets stuck doing non-firefighting or non-medical tasks that ties up one or more crews. In this time of budget cuts and furloughs, this is not acceptable! Enter the LAFD CERT Call-Out Team. Call-out team members are trained to take on these non fire fighting / medical tasks so the fire units can be freed to do what they do best. A good example of this is a situation where power lines are down. Often, an engine company can be tied up guarding the wires for hours until the power company arrives. But upon arrival of Call-out Team members, the engine company can go back into service. The Call-out team also does fire patrols during red flag brush fire alerts, helps out during flooding, and does security and traffic control at major fire command posts.

Expansion of the CERT Call-Out Team Duties

In late 2010, Battalion Chief Castro in the Hollywood area called a meeting of interested CERT members to present his plans for a CERT Urban Park Search & Rescue Team. Chief Castro began thinking about this team following the death of a woman who became ill while walking near Griffith Park, a very large urban park with lots of wildland. The woman told her companion she wasn't feeling well and was going to return to her car. She declined her friend's offer to walk back with her. Many hours later, her friend became concerned that she hadn't heard from her and went back to where she had parked and found the woman's car was still there. Because the day had developed into the hottest day in Los Angeles history (113-degrees in downtown LA before the official thermometer broke) a search was quickly started, apparently involving the Park Rangers and LAPD. Unfortunately, the Fire Department was not involved until the much later that evening. Tragically, the woman's body was found off the path quite a distance from the route back to her car. Chief Castro was of the opinion that there should be a trained group of searchers that could be called in the event of someone being lost, particularly in the areas large urban parks such as Griffith Park. It's taken about six months for Chief Castro to get the approvals necessary (not a small feat in this time of budget cuts) but as of mid-May 2011, it looks like his plan may be coming to fruition. I'm signed-up and am looking forward to the training!

In addition to Chief Castro's efforts, the Call-Out Team has expanded into other areas. Training has begun to teach CERT Call-Out Team members to drive LAFD "light" vehicles, such as "Plug Buggies" (LAFD speak for a pick-up truck) and passenger vans. The idea is that trained volunteers could be used to supplement fire fighters in non-fire fighting functions, such as hydration details (providing water and other drinks to firefighters at major fire scenes) and making air bottle refill runs. Both of these functions currently require firefighters or paramedics to be taken out of service to fulfill the need. I've already completed all the trainings and am awaiting an opportunity to serve in these capacities.