Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Avoid a Turkey Inferno This Thanksgiving

[Editor's note: It's that time of year again -- time for CERT instructor Mike Forgy to bust out his traditional deep-fried turkey safety tips for Thanksgiving.

This year, though, he passes along a special tip for folks traveling for Thanksgiving: Beware of fake wireless internet hotspots, particularly in airports and other heavily trafficked public spaces.

According to a warning from the Better Business Bureau, hackers have been known to set up fake Wi-Fi connections designed to steal the personal information (including passwords and credit card information) of the people who unknowingly connect to them.

Personal security these days includes cybersecurity, so check out the article to see advice for travelers using Wi-Fi hotspots.

On to the turkey...]

Here we go again, the turkey fryer post!  Please make sure if you are planning to fry a turkey this Thanksgiving, you do so safely. Turkey fryer fires are extremely dangerous and I would like everyone to enjoy their holiday, not have it end in tears, or worse.

Check out this short demo showing what happens during a fryer fire:

How are you cooking your Thanksgiving turkey? What the heck does this have to do with CERT, safety or anything other than a cooking class?   Frying a whole turkey has become popular in the past few years, but if not done correctly, the effects can be devastating. Unfortunately, if you are novice, or even have experience frying a turkey, it is a serious and dangerous prospect.

There are many reasons using a deep fryer to cook a turkey can be dangerous. Since using the typical pedestal-type turkey fryer SHOULD NEVER BE DONE INDOORS (this includes a garage or barn, even if is not entirely closed in), making sure you have the space and equipment to do this outdoors is important.

Also bear in mind what the weather is doing; if it is windy, raining or snowing, this could affect your fryer. In order to fry your turkey you will need to get the oil in the fryer up to at least 350 degrees ...350 degrees, which, if you did not know, IS REALLY HOT! 

Working with an unstable product such as blazing hot oil over an open flame is dangerous, even if you know what you are doing. Other safety issues include:

* If the burner is not on level ground, the units can easily tip over, spilling hot oil (3-5 gallons of hot oil at 350 degrees!!!) onto the burner and creating a LARGE, FAST fire.

* If the pot is overfilled with oil, the oil may spill over when the turkey is lowered into the pot. Oil will hit the flames on the burner and engulf the burner with fire. There are ways to measure out the right amount of oil, which is imperative to ensure you do not have the pot overfilled.

* Water and hot oil do not go together. Partially frozen turkeys contain water of course, so if you lower a partially frozen turkey into a fryer, expect an extensive fire. Heaven help you if you place a frozen turkey in the fryer; to help defrost it....this will cause an explosion as the water expands in the hot (350 degree) oil. DON'T DO IT.

* The outdoor fryers have no thermostat controls, so they can overheat quickly and cause the oil to boil over the sides of the pot faster than you can react.

* The pot and handles get EXTREMELY hot (remember, 350 degrees of boiling oil), posing severe burn hazards.

I am sure there is someone out there saying to themselves, "I am going to fry a turkey anyway." It won't be the first time someone did not listen to what I said. You still want to fry that turkey? Ok, fine. Please, remember these things as you go about frying. These are not guaranteed to stop a fire or keep you from getting burned, but they may help in mitigating a larger disaster (such as burning your house down):

* Never use a turkey fryer on a wooden, or composite deck, or inside a garage, home, or within any structure.

* Place the fryer a safe distance away from any building (if you place it in the grass, the grass should not be overly dry, nor overly wet. Also count on the grass dying and never growing back).

* Fryers should be used on a firm, flat surface to prevent them from tipping over. Try the middle of a parking lot... not the sloping driveway in front of your house next to your car.

* Once the pot is filled with the recommended amount of oil (probably peanut oil) and the burner is ignited, you should NEVER leave the fryer unattended. This also means do not cook if you are under the influence. Please, don't drink and fry.

* Keep pets inside and keep children at a safe distance. A safe distance being somewhere where they will never see the fryer, because once they do, they will want to get close.

* Use well-insulated gloves or oven mitts and wear safety glasses (I think I know where you might have a pair laying around) to guard against oil splatters.

* Do not wear loose clothing as these may ignite if you get too close to the flame or the oil, or both. If your clothes do catch on fire, remember, Stop, Drop and Roll!

*Turkeys must be thoroughly thawed. While very tasty, be very careful of injecting marinades into your turkey. The extra liquid in the bird may cause the oil to spill over.

*Keep a portable dry chemical fire extinguisher nearby. Never use a water type extinguisher to extinguish a grease or oil fire. Do not deploy the garden hose to assist with your turkey fryer fire, this will do MUCH, MUCH more harm than good.

* If your fryer does catch fire call 9-1-1 immediately!

Finally, remember the oil inside the pot will remain hot for hours after your turkey has been removed. DO NOT bring it indoors and again, keep children and pets away from the pot.

For more information on some of the hazards of cooking fires (not just the turkey fryer fires), please visit the United States Fire Administration's website for a copy of Behavioral Mitigation of Cooking Fires [PDF], located here: http://www.usfa.fema.gov/fireservice/prevention_education/strategies/cooking/

Thanks for reading and I hope everyone has a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

-- Mike

Friday, November 8, 2013

CERTs in Charge: Lessons Learned From the Final Exercise

Hopefully, you saw yesterday's recap of the November 2 final exercise for CERT classes 73 & 74. This post will highlight some things I saw as a controller in Building 25, and some conversations I had with CERTs in Command, Medical, and Accountability.

Note that these are just my personal opinions and observations: If you have feedback from the exercise you'd like to share, please leave a comment here or on the Facebook page; you can also send feedback directly to your instructors.

 Command and Control 

IC Brian Aiello (in green
helmet), coordinates with
Fairfax County Fire & Rescue.
Under ICS, the rescue effort is led by an Incident Commander (IC), who takes overall command of a chaotic situation and assigns the other roles for the Command staff.

CERT Brian Aiello from Class 73 started out as Incident Commander. When I asked Brian about his impressions serving as IC, his key takeaway was that the Incident Commander bears a lot of responsibility and has a lot to organize, but that the task is made easier by identifying good people to fill key roles.

ICs also have to maintain flexibility and adapt to the changing conditions and uncertainty present in all disasters. In this scenario, exercise controllers added complexity by requiring all CERTs, including the Command staff, rotate over to the lifting and cribbing skills test station, meaning that command was transferred more than usual.

IC Andrea Borelli
directs efforts.
CERT Andrea Borrelli (also Class 73) was there to pick up command responsibility. While finding the initial handover "really confusing," Andrea ultimately found her stint as IC not as complicated as she'd expected.

She attributes this to having worked in prior CERT training activities with her Accountability lead, Ken Lucas, which illustrates another aspect of the benefits of training exercises: Increasing familiarity and developing the working relationships responders need in a real emergency.

(There's a saying among emergency managers: "You don't want to be exchanging business cards during a disaster.")

Despite challenges, both ICs were pleased by the helpfulness of their fellow CERTs, with Brian lauding CERTs' readiness to accept assignments, and with Andrea glad to see that CERTs had no problem following orders from a young person (something she'd had concerns about before taking command).

Coordinating Rescuers

Before Rescue teams can be sent out, Command staff first have to assess the situation, set priorities, allocate resources, and issue orders. And as the operation develops, teams often face waits to check in or be redeployed, since the IC and Accountability are trying to simultaneously handle multiple problems.

For rescuers, the wait can be agonizing; IC Andrea noted that one of the challenges of Command is the need to rein in the impulse of CERTs on rescue teams to run off and go do something outside the scope of their orders.

For example, in one instance, an exercise controller (experienced Fairfax County CERTs can probably guess who) set off a smoke bomb to simulate a fire in an already-cleared building. A CERT, on his own initiative, started heading to the building with fire extinguisher in hand to perform fire suppression, until the IC stopped him and pulled him back, noting that the fire provided no immediate threat to the operation.

Rescuers don't always understand that they only see a small piece of the overall picture, and that in theory, Command will have a broader picture of the entire situation.

This is easier said than done. Within the friction of a disaster response, there are always challenges, bottlenecks, and information gaps. To help manage the information flow, Accountability went low-tech, using a large piece of cardboard and a black Sharpie marker:

Command staff coordinate in front of the Accountability board.
Using the board, the Command staff was able to track team status, and keep a tally of actions taken, buildings searched, and victims rescued, to better inform Command's decisions. Though it wasn't always easy: Accountability Ken noted his biggest challenge was getting teams to maintain consistent numbering of victims on tags and dashboards. Similarly, IC Brian noted several instances where CERTs got separated from their partners, against the precepts of the buddy system.

(I only saw activity at the Command Post towards the end of the exercise; if folks have comments from earlier in the day, please share in the comments.)

Rescuers in the Field

Once the disaster scene is cleared for rescue teams to begin work, CERTs often feel impatience to deploy, especially when they can see and hear victims in the immediate vicinity of the Command Post.

Victims, too, can feel impatience or frustration, especially when they can see or hear CERTs waiting at the Command Post to be deployed:

The view of the Command Post from inside Building 25.

Of course, impatience at initial inaction can often be followed by the feeling of being overwhelmed once a rescuer comes face to face with the number of victims at a mass casualty scene.

The CERTs I witnessed were pretty good at using the triage techniques they were taught to assess patients for breathing, bleeding, and shock, as well as mostly good at wearing their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Another thing that was a pleasant surprise to see -- the Rescue team I witnessed remembered to mark the building -- both on entry and exit -- which is something CERTs often forget to do.

CERTs marked the entrance to Building 25.

Caring for Patients

For CERTs working at Medical, the tempo is slightly different. Initially, activity at Medical is slow... until CERTs begin bringing in rescued victims, and activity surges.

Carlos Santiso, overseeing Medical, also found the experience somewhat overwhelming. As CERTs are told in training, patient demand can often threaten to overload capacity, until resources start to shift from search-and-rescue operations to patient care.

CERTs and EMTs assess and treat patients in the busy Medical area.
The diversion of CERTs to the lifting and cribbing station also affected Medical, causing a loss of resources just when they were needed to scale up. However, challenges like these simulate the kind of pressures CERTs would face in a real response, and provide lessons learned for future situations.

According to Carlos, one other lesson he learned was to leave more room to expand the areas for Red-, Yellow-, and Green-tagged patients in Medical, to avoid having patients spread across multiple locations.

Logistical Support

The role of Logistics can be easy to overlook... until Rescue and Transport teams start calling for stretchers and cribbing material, and Medical teams run low on splint material and dressings.

Logistics team members find, gather, and distribute vital supplies. (And steal our water.)
Logistics team members were particularly aggressive; I had to stop one team from taking the bottled water set aside for victims in Building 25, only to find that a few minutes later that another Logistics team had gotten to it.

Transfer of Command

Coordinating counts of patients and their status provided a challenge, complicated by the prior transfer of Command, as well as having patients in the same category spread across multiple locations.

CERTs coordinate with Fairfax County Fire & Rescue to transfer command.
Towards the end of the exercise, it seemed like everyone -- CERTs and victims -- was crowded around Medical. Some of our victim actors had moved around, making it particularly difficult for IC and the Fair Oaks EMTs to get an accurate tally of the number and type of victims.


Here you can see one of the Incident Command Boards used by the Fairfax Fire and Rescue folks (click to zoom), compared to the big piece of cardboard Accountability was using. The goal is to make sure that by the Transfer of Command, CERTs can boil down the info from that big board, down to the boxes on that little board:

IMG_2732 IMG_2713


The purpose of a full-scale exercise is to challenge CERT responders, to make them think as they use their training, and to give them a chance to learn what they do well, and what they can do better. The CERTs from classes 73 & 74 did a great job, and I hope to see them at future training exercises and activities.

Thanks to all the CERT instructors, staff, and victim actors, and congratulations to our new Fairfax County CERTs!

If you have thoughts or feedback you'd like to share, please leave a comment below.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

New CERTs Respond to Simulated Hurricane in Graduation Exercise

    On November 2, Hurricane Victoria, a Category 3 storm, slams into Virginia, lashing the area with 80+mph winds and adding a foot of rain to already-saturated ground. First responders are swamped with calls to deal with widespread flooding in low-lying areas of northern Virginia and DC. In this large-scale disaster, Fairfax County CERTs are called to help a hard-hit gated community in Lorton. Assigned to assess the situation and assist the population of retirees and their visiting families, they are equipped only with the training and supplies they bring.
This was the scenario faced by over 40 students from classes 73 and 74 of Fairfax County's Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program, in a final graduation exercise that put their prior seven weeks of classroom and hands-on training to the test.

The goal of the exercise: Use a realistic, high-pressure environment to test CERTs' ability to perform their mission: Do the greatest good for the greatest number of people during a disaster... while keeping themselves safe.

Put to the Test

The CERT students, comprising Fairfax County residents of all ages, occupations, and capabilities, were challenged to respond to a full-scale, simulated disaster scene at the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department's training site in Lorton.

Lorton Training Site photo from April, 2013.
Located at the former Lorton Reformatory Juvenile Correctional Facility, the site is a realistic training environment used by professional first responders, including the international urban search and rescue team Virginia Task Force 1.

CERT rescuers assist a victim actor inside one of the Lorton facility buildings.
Placed in and around the wrecked buildings were over 50 volunteer victim actors, wearing moulage -- realistic wound makeup applied earlier that morning -- and given specific symptoms and behaviors with which to test their CERT rescuers' knowledge and training.

Victim actor volunteers sporting moulage (simulated wound makeup) depicting an impalement, embedded glass, and amputated fingers.

CERTs Take Command

From the moment they deployed to the site, CERT students were evaluated on their ability to establish a command structure, survey the scene, search for and triage victims, give lifesaving medical assistance, extricate and transport victims to a medical area for care, and finally, transfer command to Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department responders.

The first task for the CERT responders was to establish a Command Post in a safe area near the scene. From there, CERTs began to apply the concepts of the Incident Command System (ICS) -- a flexible, scalable, standardized approach for first responders managing incidents of all types and sizes.
CERTs issue orders and manage teams from the Command Post.
In CERT's implementation of ICS, the response effort is led by a single Incident Commander (IC), who is assisted by an Accountability lead who tracks the status of rescuers, resources, and victims -- in this case, using a big piece of cardboard and a black magic marker.

The command structure is centralized, with information flowing to and orders coming from one point, so the Incident Commander can effectively manage the situation, address changing priorities, and prevent the duplication of effort.

Supporting the IC are heads of departments, responsible for Medical and Logistics tasks, as well as the CERTs on the search and rescue teams.

Rescuers in Action

CERT rescuers are trained to perform an initial "size up" of the area, to ensure that it's safe enough to begin rescue operations. Then, CERTs "work the problem" and rapidly search the disaster scene, which may reveal large numbers of victims. To prevent being overwhelmed in a mass casualty situation, each CERT rescuer is trained to assess and triage (categorize) each victim within 30 seconds.

Within those 30 seconds, CERTs will treat major bleeding, and use simple tests to check victims for respiration, perfusion (the flow of blood to extremities), and mental status. 

A CERT rescuer assesses a victim actor with a simulated hand amputation.
CERTs will then tag each victim according to the severity of their injuries: Green (walking wounded), Yellow (Delayed treatment), Red (Immediate treatment), and Black (dead or expectant).

While the checklists are straightforward in the classroom, the processes are complicated in the field by stress and the realistic responses of the victim actors:

After the scene is surveyed, rescue teams report back to Command, which sets priorities and begins sending teams to transport the most serious (Red) patients to Medical for treatment.

CERTs use a flexible stretcher to transport a victim.
CERTs are trained to load and transport victims safely, using a variety of methods, including walking assists, two-person carries, and improvised stretchers.

A CERT rescue team carries a victim actor wrapped in a space blanket.

Treating the Wounded

When the victims arrive at Medical, they are checked in by the Medical team, and directed to the area that corresponds to their triage color code. Patients are given a head-to-toe assessment; dressings and splints are checked; and patients are re-assessed every five minutes.

CERTs in the Medical area work to stabilize a patient.
Using medical supplies that are brought, collected, and improvised by the Logistics team, the goal of CERTs in Medical is to keep patients stable and under care until professional first responders arrive.

Transferring Command

The role of CERT is to provide assistance to victims until professional first responders arrive. In this exercise, EMTs from Fairfax County's Fair Oaks Volunteer Fire & Rescue Department arrived to take command of the disaster response.
CERTs coordinate with EMTs from Fairfax County Fire & Rescue.
During the transfer of command, CERTs briefed responders about the incident, actions taken, and remaining actions. CERTs also gave a tally of the number and types of patients being treated, allowing the EMTs to focus on the care and transport of the highest-priority patients.

Prepared for Disaster

Upon completion of the exercise, the CERTs from classes 73 and 74 met with instructors to receive a debrief and get an assessment of their performance. CERTs were able to see where they performed well, and to find areas where they can improve their skills and tactics. All of the new CERT graduates received a certificate of accomplishment, and were encouraged to continue learning, training, and staying engaged with the Fairfax County CERT program.

CERT training classes are free to residents of Fairfax County over 18. Classes are offered several times each year at the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Academy, as well as other locations throughout the community. For more information about CERT training, visit the official Fairfax County CERT web site.

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Tomorrow: CERTs in Charge - observations and lessons from some CERTs who participated.

See more photos from the exercise in the album on Facebook and follow the activities of Fairfax County CERT by liking the Fairfax County CERT Facebook page.