Friday, December 19, 2014

Happy Holidays From Fairfax County CERT!

[Editor's Note: Jeffrey Katz, Volunteer Liaison, shares some year-end CERT successes in a holiday message adapted from his weekly email. From all of us at Fairfax County CERT, happy holidays!]
For the CERT program here in Fairfax County, it has been a banner year, that would have been impossible without those who reside in or work in Fairfax County. You -- the students and volunteers -- make the program one of the premier CERT operations in the country.

For the calendar year 2014, the CERT program has issued 291 CERT certificates (from 14 classes) to volunteers who have completed the 24- to 30-hour training. That is a graduation rate of about 80% of the total registrants for the classes.

During the same time frame, we have held 35 extracurricular classes, trainings, and exercises, with a total participation of 732 students. This is not including the 200-plus actors/victims from the classes and exercises, and the 120 Boy Scouts who attended the CERT/Emergency Preparedness Camporee at the Academy.

Some of the things to look forward to during the next 18 months:
  • The formation of neighborhood teams.
  • Introduction to windshield surveys.
  • Volunteering for the World Police Fire Games in July of 2015.
  • More refresher classes and exercises.
  • And many more opportunities to further your knowledge and skills.
  • Save-the-date: CERT Potluck on January 18, 2015
And finally, the Fairfax County CERT leadership wishes you all a safe and happy holiday season.

Jeffrey Katz is Volunteer Liaison, Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department. You can email him at

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Turkey Inferno Claims Another House

[Editor's Note: Lest you think that Fairfax County CERT Instructor Mike Forgy's annual "don't burn down your house trying to deep-fry a turkey" post is holiday-themed fire safety puffery... well, it happened again this week: A Tennessee man accidentally torched his house while deep-frying a Thanksgiving turkey in the garage:

If that's not enough to make you reconsider the good old oven, check out this compilation of the 12 greatest deep-fried turkey disaster videos of all time.

Also, turning 180 degrees from fire, in case you haven't been paying attention, we're getting wintry weather on the East Coast on one of the busiest travel days of the year, so please be sure to stay safe this Thanksgiving holiday! Now, here's Mike...]

Here we go again, the turkey fryer post! Did you know that, according to the US Fire Administration, Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, and frying food brings the biggest risk of cooking fires? Throw in a propane-powered turkey deep fryer filled with hot cooking oil, and you've got a real recipe for disaster.

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 try and 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'm going to fry a turkey anyway." It won't be the first time someone didn't 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:

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

-- Mike

Mike Forgy is an Adjunct Instructor with Fairfax County CERT.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Shadowing CERTs: Class 7: Fire Suppression

[This week, on Shadowing CERTs: On their seventh and final week of training, the students of Fairfax County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Classes 85 and 86 get some hands-on training with fire extinguishers, and face one last drill before their final graduation exercise on November 15. Are they up to the challenge?]

It's Monday night, and the air in Burn Building A at the Fire and Rescue Academy is still warm and sooty from a firefighter training exercise earlier that day.

Burned pallets from an earlier exercise in Burn Building A. All photos: Joe Loong

It's fitting, since this week, the students of Fairfax County CERT Classes 85 and 86 are about to get some hands-on training in fire suppression.

But first, they have a classroom lecture about fire chemistry, fire safety, and the role of CERTs in putting out small fires (fires smaller than a person and which can be put out in under five seconds). CERTs don't run into burning buildings; when they see a fire, they determine if they can safely attempt to put it out with a fire extinguisher, and if they can't, they get out.

CERT Gary Nisker holds the fire extinguisher while instructor Mike Forgy demonstrates the workings of a two-person fire suppression team.

CERTs on fire suppression teams work in teams of two, where the person using the fire extinguisher has only one job (the easy one): Use the extinguisher to put out the fire. The other team member must keep one hand on their partner, while checking for hazards and watching out for the safety of the team.

A CERT fire suppression team from Class 85 uses a water fire extinguisher on a fire pan.

After the lecture, each CERT student gets a chance to perform both fire suppression team roles, facing off against a propane-fueled fire pan controlled by instructor Brian Talbot. When handling the extinguisher, they use the P.A.S.S. technique (Pull pin and test, Aim, Squeeze the handle, Sweep at the base of the fire), then serve as the person in the back, making sure that the team stays safe and never turns its back on the fire.

You can see the CERTs in action in the following videos -- Class 85:

And Class 86:

(You can find more photos from the CERTs' fire suppression training at the Fairfax County CERT Facebook Page: CERT Class 85, 10/27/14 and CERT Class 86, 10/29/14, where you will also see the CERTs handling a real fire hose under the guidance of a Fairfax County firefighter.)

CERTs handle a fire hose under the guidance of instructor Paul Bertovich.

Drill, Baby, Drill

Immediately after the fire suppression training, the CERTs are sent into their last drill before the November 15 final graduation exercise. Once again, they must take all of the knowledge and skills they've learned over the previous seven weeks and put it together as they respond to the scenario, a simulated hurricane-struck building.

CERTs check in with Command and Accountability.

The CERTs must set up a command post and establish Command, Accountability, Logistics, Medical, and Rescue functions. Then, they have to send teams to size up the situation and determine whether the scene is safe to begin rescue operations. (For the Monday CERTs, certain areas of the burn building are deemed off-limits, due to the recent burn activity.)

CERT rescue teams encounter a rescue dummy.

The CERT rescuers then must methodically search the structure, and rapidly assess and treat the simulated victims they encounter. Their goal is to spend no more than 30 seconds on each victim, treating only the "three killers": airway obstructions, major bleeding, and shock, then tagging the victim according to the proper triage category (Red, Yellow, Green, or Black.)

CERT rescuers assess and treat a gingerbread in the burn building.

After the initial search, CERTs must then transport the survivors to Medical and provide care until first responders arrive.

CERT rescuers maneuver a plywood "gingerbread" victim down the stairs.

Throughout the drill, the CERTs must use every skill they've learned, from giving complete orders and maintaining accountability, to marking buildings and applying pressure dressings, while above all, remembering to keep themselves safe while doing the greatest good for the greatest number.

It's a lot to remember.

At the end of the exercise, the CERTs meet to debrief. It's their last chance to ask questions. With no classes to make up, they have two weeks to organize and prepare for their graduation full-scale exercise: a simulated mass casualty incident, featuring live human victim actors covered in wound makeup, at the realistically damaged training facility in Lorton.

Be a Victim!

On November 15, you can be part of the action: If you're a previously trained CERT, you can participate as a player. Otherwise, all persons 15 years and up are eligible to be victim actors for the exercise. If you've been following their progress, it's your chance to see up close how the CERTs perform.

How will they do? We'll see on November 15!

Joe Loong, volunteer Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT, is an editorial content and community engagement consultant. You can email him at

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Shadowing CERTs: Class 6: Light Search & Rescue Operations

[Previously, on Shadowing CERTs: Over the past five weeks, the students of Fairfax County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Classes 85 and 86 have learned the mindset, knowledge, and disaster response skills it takes to be a CERT. In their next-to-last class, Light Search & Rescue Operations, CERTs are faced with an unfamiliar building, then must learn new skills on how to safely extricate victims.]

The line of the night comes early, during the pre-drill refresher: "Worst turkey, easiest to get out." It's a mishearing of instructor Mike Forgy's guidance on determining priorities for transporting survivors to Medical. Although the actual line is, "Worst hurt, easiest to get out," the turkey version still kind of fits. And it won't be the only miscommunication of the evening.

CERTs set up Command outside Building B and await orders. All Photos: Joe Loong

This drill throws something new at the CERT students: Building B. Although they may have done a lap of it as part of earlier scene size-ups, they haven't been inside. It's much bigger than the other burn buildings, with floors that mimic the layout of an apartment building and office building. Unknown to the CERTs, simulated victims are only on the third floor, but it's still a lot of ground to cover.

A CERT rescue team treats a simulated survivor in a bed.

The CERTs get to work, searching for survivors in a post-tornado scenario. As they search for plywood victims, problems arise: Rescue teams are idled, waiting for initial sizeup teams to return. Simulated hazards are overlooked or disregarded. Bottlenecks arise and teams run into each other with orders that are contradictory, redundant, or sometimes even both.

CERTs debrief after the drill, sharing things that went well and things that could be improved.

However, mistakes and confusion are part of the learning experience, so that when CERTs are faced with the chaos of a real disaster response, they'll stay calm, resolve conflicts, and work the problem. And during the debrief, CERTs share their experiences, including things that went well, and things they can improve on.

Debriefing after drills is a crucial part of CERT training.

Light Search & Rescue and Crib Notes

Returning to the classroom, Lead Instructor Steve Willey starts getting into the details of CERT Light Search & Rescue Operations. Keeping rescuer safety first in mind, CERTs learn to categorize structures according to Light, Moderate, and Heavy damage, with Heavily damaged buildings being "NO GO" areas for CERTs. (You can practice evaluating structures and rescuing survivors in this web-based tutorial that Steve helped create.)

Presentation slide showing the characteristics of structures with Heavy damage, which are off-limits to CERTs.

After getting best practices for organizing and deploying Rescue teams (including adapting the Fire Department's tactic of designating Rapid Intervention Teams tasked to help rescuers who get into trouble), CERTs then learned the mechanics behind extricating trapped victims.

CERTs carefully use lifting and cribbing to safely free a simulated victim from beneath an unstable pile of wooden pallets.

CERTs learned to use simple machines like levers and inclined planes to turn mechanical advantage to their advantage. They also learned how to stack cribbing -- materials  crisscrossed like Jenga blocks -- to provide support as they lifted, following the rule "Lift an inch, crib an inch." Then, they went outside to two lifting and cribbing stations to turn theory into practice.

CERTs practice using levers and wedges to move a dumpster.

Using two-by-fours, four-by-fours, wedges, and blocks to move the heavy items, CERTs learned that they needed to plan out their moves in advance, and communicate them to all team members.

CERTs work together to safely stabilize and lift the pallets.

CERTs also learned vital safety lessons, like never reaching under what's being lifted (instead, use a push stick to position materials), and never standing over a lever (to avoid being struck if it moves unexpectedly).

Next time, we'll see how the CERTs perform as they handle fire extinguishers and then take on their last drill before their final, full-scale graduation exercise.

Joe Loong, volunteer Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT, is an editorial content and community engagement consultant. You can email him at

Saturday, November 1, 2014

George Mason District Boy Scouts Respond to "Hurricane George"

[Editor's Note: Some people might consider an overnight campout with over 100 Boy Scouts to be, by definition, an exercise in disaster response and emergency management. Rolf Madole, Fairfax County CERT Operations Lead and prime mover behind the George Mason District 2014 Fall Camporee, recaps the event. Turns out that the Camporee wasn't just a great training exercise for the Scouts, but it also gave CERTs useful experience working with enthusiastic -- though untrained -- volunteers. (This account is adapted from an article Rolf wrote for the Fire & Rescue Department's 'Front Lines' newsletter.)]

“Hurricane George”: The George Mason District 2014 Fall Camporee

Friday, October 11, Hurricane George makes landfall and hits an area in Fairfax County surrounding the Fire and Rescue Academy. Boy Scout troops from George Mason District and surrounding districts are mobilized; they grab their "go bags" and report for duty to train and respond to the disaster.

George Mason District Scouts gather at the Fire & Rescue Academy Saturday morning. Photo: Brian Talbot

That was the scenario for the George Mason District 2014 Boy Scout Fall Camporee. On the morning of Saturday, October 12, 102 local-area Boy Scouts, accompanied by 38 adult Scout leaders, checked in and divided into 13 teams. Each team received a safety briefing and was directed to report to one of several disaster skill stations.

Scouts get briefed on urban search and rescue in front of Burn Building 2. Photo: Allie Felder

At each station, Fairfax County Firefighters and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers provided guidance and instruction to the Scouts and challenged them in disaster response techniques such as search & rescue, fire suppression, victim extraction and movement, and medical care.

Scouts practice putting out small fires with a fire extinguisher. Photo: Allie Felder

Scouts were also given an opportunity to witness response drills and fire engine operations, as well as getting an orientation to the Fairfax’s County Police Department's Helicopter Division, including Fairfax 1, the Bell 429 helicopter.

A team of Scouts practice handling a fire hose under the instruction of a Fairfax County firefighter. Photo: Allie Felder

Once every team completed all the assignments, they reported to the academy High Bay to debrief and review what they had learned.

Scouts debrief in the High Bay of the Fire and Rescue Academy. Photo: Allie Felder

A Call to Action
However, the day wasn’t yet over for the Scouts. A “no-notice” exercise was kicked off requiring the Scouts to respond to a four-story building search and rescue scenario. Scout teams, under the leadership and direction of 13 CERT volunteers and supervised by Fairfax County firefighters, applied what they learned earlier that day.

Scouts use a flexible stretcher to transport a simulated victim. Photo: Allie Felder

Teams were required to check in with Accountability and assigned to stations for Search and Rescue, Medical, and Logistics, emphasizing objectives of search, fire suppression, victim extraction, victim triage, sorting, and transportation.

Scouts use a blanket carry to transport materials. Photo: Allie Felder

By the end of the two-hour exercise, Scouts were able to find and extricate 55 victims simulated by rescue mannequins, plywood "gingerbread" dummies, and traffic cones representing different victim condition categories. Of the 55 simulated victims, 44 were transported to a medical station for triage and sorting, 14 of whom were carried to two different hospital stations.

With the exercise complete, Scouts returned to the High Bay for a warm dinner prepared by the Order of the Arrow, and then to the traditional Boy Scout campfire for songs and skits. Finally, Scouts reported back to the High Bay where they bedded down for the night, chaperoned by adult Scout leaders and fire department personnel.

The overall objective was to promote disaster awareness among Scouts and provide them with the exercise requirement for the Scouting Emergency Preparedness merit badge, as well as to give all participants (Scouts and CERTs) a fun and instructive time. The objectives, we are happy to report, were all achieved.

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Adjunct Instructor Brian Talbot, CERT Assistant Lead Anita Van der Merwe, George Mason District Camporee Chairman Allie Felder, CERT Lead Missy Tuttle-Ferrio, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Adjunct Instructor Mike Forgy. Photo: Missy Tuttle-Ferrio

If you represent a Scouting organization and are interested in learning more about how Fairfax County CERT put together the Camporee, please contact Rolf.

Rolf Madole, Operations Lead of Fairfax County CERT, is is a budget analyst contractor for the federal government. You can email him at 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Shadowing CERTs: Class 5: Safety, Hazards, Terrorism, & Disaster Psychology

[Previously, on Shadowing CERTs: The students of Fairfax County CERT Classes 85 and 86 finished their modules on Disaster Medical Operations, and will soon learn about the darker side of disaster response. Meanwhile, the drills keep building in complexity...]

The scenario that greets our students: A severe storm has hit the area, and CERTs have been deployed to a two-building complex which includes a children's day care center. Their task: Set up a Command Post, assess the scene, begin rescue operations, and treat survivors until responders can arrive.

Class 85 CERTs set up their Command Post on a picnic table. All photos: Joe Loong

This drill marks the CERTs' first return to Burn Building A since their introduction to CERT command structure in Week Two, and it becomes their primary focus since a size-up of the scene determines that the other structure is too unsafe to enter. (A key part of CERT training is maintaining the safety of rescuers, since a CERT who becomes injured or trapped just adds to the problem.)

The first team of CERT searchers to enter the target building uses duct tape to mark it with standard urban search and rescue markings.

Guided by the light of their headlamps and flashlights, CERTs begin searching the structure. The Incident Commander has given each Rescue team a specific assignment, such as searching for survivors in a top-down or bottom-up pattern (starting at the top floor and working their way down, or vice versa), or searching a specific floor.

CERTs use their duct tape and black Sharpie markers to create triage tags and information recording dashboards.

Gingerbread People Are Just Like You and Me (Sort of)

Once again, the survivors in this drill are plywood "gingerbread" people who are easy to carry, but don't respond when called and can't give rescuers any useful information (other than their own symptoms written on a card).

A CERT rescue team walks a green-tagged (walking wounded) survivor to the Medical area.

However, gingerbreads, much like their human counterparts, are often found in strange and inconvenient locations, and can be hard to spot in the dark.

CERTs tend to a simulated survivor in a crawl space.

And despite their light weight, gingerbread survivors also require four to six rescuers to lift and carry them out.

CERT rescuers carry a gingerbread survivor to Medical.

And just like people, gingerbreads require ongoing assessment and care at the Medical area:

A CERT Medical team member performs a head-to-toe assessment on a red-tagged gingerbread survivor.

A Note on Logistics

Before we wrap up coverage of this drill, here's a word about Logistics. Despite UPS advertising campaigns, it can be easy to overlook the role of Logistics in operations. After all, the Rescue and Medical personnel are doing the camera-ready tasks, treating survivors in the field and carrying them to safety, or doing appropriately important-looking things to injured people in Medical.

Meanwhile, Logistics team members are doing not-so-glamorous-looking things like gathering supplies and moving them around.

Logistics team CERTs build and maintain a supply cache.

However, any disaster responder will tell you that without Logistics, you can't get anything done. Without drinking water, sanitation, cribbing material, tools, blankets, medical supplies, and everything else you need to run a rescue operation and keep people alive, your efforts to help survivors will be severely hampered. So here's to Logistics and everything they do.

Managing Threats, Seen and Unseen

After the drill and debrief, the CERT students returned to the classroom to learn about the dangers CERTs need to be prepared for, featuring a hefty dose of first-hand experience from instructor Mike Forgy. Rescuers in the field may face hazards ranging from loose dogs to drug labs, not to mention the threats of terrorism... including secondary attacks that specifically target first responders.

CERT training keeps rescuer safety paramount at all times, so CERTs learn to be aware of their surroundings, and to avoid the threats they can't mitigate. However, one threat that they may face is invisible, and CERTs need to be prepared for the stress and emotional impact of being on a disaster scene, and working with survivors who have been injured, or seen their loved ones injured or killed.

In addition to providing guidelines for dealing with traumatized survivors, CERTs were told how to recognize and deal with incident stress among themselves and their teammates. Instructor Forgy likened the protective steps against disaster trauma to those taken against radiation: Limit exposure time, increase distance, and add shielding. Much of this can be accomplished by rotating teams, providing rest breaks, and taking care to maintain the physiological needs of rescuers.

In the next class, CERTs will learn how to extract entrapped victims using wood and two-thousand-year-old principles, and face their most complex drill to date.

Joe Loong, volunteer Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT, is an editorial content and community engagement consultant. You can email him at

Monday, October 27, 2014

Shadowing CERTs: Class 4, Disaster Medical Operations 2

[Previously, on Shadowing CERTs: After a major disaster, triaging and treating survivors in the field is only the first step. Victims need to be cared for at Medical until they can be evacuated for more comprehensive care. The students of Fairfax County CERT's Classes 85 and 86 learn what it takes to maintain the patients under their care.]

CERTs of Class 85 set up Command and Accountability as they prepare to search the High Bay. All photos: Joe Loong

Like last week, the second class in Disaster Medical Operations begins with a drill in the darkened High Bay. The CERTs are more familiar with the layout (including the multi-story "garden apartment"), but each drill is getting more complex, and the students are being evaluated on how well they remember, integrate, and apply the skills they've learned to date.

Faced once again with plywood dummies ("gingerbreads") and human victim actors, CERT rescuers must rapidly assess, triage, tag, and treat the victims, focusing on stopping the three killers they've been trained to deal with (obstructed airway, excessive bleeding, and shock).

CERT rescuers find Instructor Rich Hall, who plays a victim actor with a simulated arm injury.

Mixing human actors with gingerbreads gives CERTs an additional challenge. Students tend to prioritize human victim actors (especially ones who moan and cry out) over plywood ones, causing them to bypass their methodical searches and spend more time treating less-severe injuries.

CERTs gather bandaging supplies at a Logistics cache.

Instructors in this phase of the drill aren't just guiding students on what to do, but are advising them what not to do. During the initial search, the goal of rescuers is to spend no more than 30 seconds on each patient, which means stopping life threats, and saving non-life-threatening injuries (including nasty-looking wounds like compound fractures) for later care.

Instructor Rich Hall demonstrates how to perform a head-to-toe assessment.

After the drill, CERTs head back to the classroom to learn what that "later" care at Medical involves. CERTs learn that setting up a Medical area means more than just colored tarps and sunshades. In an actual disaster, they may need to care for survivors on-site for up to three days, so maintaining hygiene and sanitation becomes critical. CERTs learn several methods for purifying water, as well as how to use a 10:1 mixture of water and bleach to make disinfecting solution.

At Medical, CERTs must continue to monitor patients for life threats, as well as perform a head-to-toe assessment to check for other injuries. They learn how to treat injuries ranging from burns and fractures to hypothermia. CERTs learn the importance of regularly re-assessing patients for changes in status. And they practice skills like performing head-to-toe assessments, dressing wounds, and splinting limbs.

In their next class, CERTs will learn how to watch out for hazards of a different sort... including unseen ones that affect both victims and rescuers.

Joe Loong, volunteer Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT, is an editorial content and community engagement consultant. You can email him at

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Shadowing CERTs, Class 3: Disaster Medical Operations 1

[Previously, on Shadowing CERTs: The students of Fairfax County CERT Classes 85 and 86 have gotten an Introduction to CERT and instruction in Disaster Management. In their third week, things are about to get a lot more hands on...]

Starting this week, Fairfax County CERT students are expected to arrive wearing their full CERT gear, because class starts with a drill to test what they've learned to date about managing disasters.

When they get to the darkened High Bay, CERTs must quickly size up the scene, set up Command and Accountability functions, send out Logistics teams to gather materials, establish a Medical area, and begin Rescue operations, all by flashlight. (We'll have pictures of a High Bay drill in the Week 4 writeup.)

Throughout the process, instructors coach the students, reminding them to properly tag the building before entering and helping them conduct a top-down or bottom-up search.

In this drill, the victims are plywood "gingerbread" cutouts, as well as a few human instructors who arrive at Medical for treatment. (CERTs will learn patient lifts and classes in a later class.)

Instructor Rich Hall leads class on Disaster Medical Operations. All photos by Joe Loong

After a debrief, CERTs head back to the classroom for lectures and skill drills led by instructor Rich Hall, who leads off by teaching CERTs to identify themselves and ask patients for permission before beginning treatment (noting that consent is implied when dealing with unconscious victims).

CERT responders learn that their primary goal during rescue operations is to rapidly triage, tag, and treat life-threatening injuries, spending no more than 30 seconds per victim. They learn the triage categories of Red (Immediate), Yellow (Delayed), Green (Minor), and Black (Expectant/Dead). And they learn simple methods to evaluate victims, like the RPM test, which checks for Respiration, Perfusion (an indicator of effective circulation), and Mental Status.

Duct tape "desktops" that CERTs use to record the number, triage status, and location of victims.

Students also learn how to use their duct tape and Sharpie markers to make victim tags and a recording desktop that they'll later turn in to Command.

Rich demonstrates the head-tilt, chin-lift method to open an airway.

For CERT rescuers in the field, patient treatment consists of stopping the "three killers" by opening airways, stopping major bleeding (as well as a new addition this year, treating sucking chest wounds), and treating for shock.

They learn just what constitutes major bleeding (it doesn't take a lot of blood to make a big mess), and learn how do use different types of materials ranging from cravats and triangular bandages, to duct tape and torn sheets, to apply a proper (and tight) pressure dressing to stop major bleeding. And they get an introduction on the use of occlusive dressings to treat sucking chest wound, as well as tourniquets (CERTs can get further instruction in both techniques in a separate class offering.)

Class 86 CERTs practice assessing patients and treating them to stop the "three killers" by opening airways, stopping major bleeding, and treating for shock.
During the skill drills, CERTs get a chance to be both rescuers and victims. Drills begin with treatment; then triage and treatment; then triage, treatment, and tagging. Each drill reinforces and then builds on the skills they practiced in the previous drill.

The final hallway drill presents CERTs a large number of casualties, who they must rapidly triage, tag, and treat.

In the evening's final drill, students are faced with a number of victims, either in the High Bay or lined up in a hallway, and must quickly triage, tag, and treat victims, all under the watchful eye of instructors.

CERT rescuers work in teams; one person assesses the victim, and the other prepares the tag and records their information.

In subsequent weeks, the students of CERT Classes 85 and 86 will build on this knowledge, as the drills (and what they're expected to do in them) get more complex.

Joe Loong, volunteer Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT, is an editorial content and community engagement consultant. You can email him at

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Shadowing CERTs: Class 2, Disaster Management

[Editor's Note: I'm in training to become a CERT Volunteer Instructor, so I've been observing Fairfax County CERT's Fall classes at the Fire & Rescue Academy (Classes 85 and 86). I planned on posting class recaps every week, but since we're now in week six of seven and I've only posted once, I'm clearly behind schedule. I'm going to try to get caught up in time for the classes' Nov. 15 final graduation exercise.]

The first week of CERT training is largely about why CERT does what it does. In the second class, Disaster Management, the students of CERT Classes 85 and 86 really started getting into the how's: How CERTs organize and respond to a disaster.

Instructor Mike Forgy teaches the students of Class 86 the finer points of CERT organization. All photos: Joe Loong
During the opening lecture, instructors threw out a slew of acronyms, mnemonics, and rules of thumb to help CERTs orient themselves during a disaster response, including:
  • Use the CALMeR command structure: Command, Accountability, Logistics, Medical, Rescue
  • Rescuers should be SAFE: Survey scene; Affix tags; Fix life; Extricate victims
  • Determine priorities for rescue by focusing on "Worst hurt, easiest to get out."
CERTs also learned that a good set of orders has both geographic and functional components: "Team 2, I need you to go to Building 2, Floor 2 [a specific place] and conduct a search and report back [a specific action]."

Then, the CERT students were told to gear up and head outside for a round-robin of stations that demonstrated the functions of Command, Accountability, Logistics, Medical, and Rescue.

Lead Instructor Steve Willey receives a scene size-up report at the Command station.

For Command and Accountability, CERTs got an overview of the Command function. They were taught how to pick a safe site for their Command Post, and how to begin setting up the other departments and their leaders. They learned that the CERT organization is designed to keep a commander's span of control to no more 7 persons, with the optimum being 3-5. And they learned the importance of maintaining Accountability for all team members: Being able to know who is doing what at any given time.

Volunteer Instructor Jonathan Kiell shows Class 85 CERTs the materials gathered at a Logistics cache.
At the Logistics station, CERTs learned how to keep the response supplied with vital materials, ranging from materials for lifting, cribbing, and building stretchers for the Rescue teams, to tarps, water, bandages, and shelter for the Medical area. CERTs were encouraged to use their resourcefulness to obtain materials, but cautioned to stay within legal and ethical boundaries.

At the Medical station, CERT Jim McPheeters uses the contents of his CERT back to show students how to provision a Medical area.
CERTs learned how to set up and operate a Medical area using only the materials in their packs and items supplied by Logistics. A proper Medical area has safe, distinct areas for the treatment of each category of triaged patients, as well as access control and a check-in process so that incoming patients aren't lost in the chaos.

CERTs of Class 85 go through the burn building as they watch a CERT Rescue team perform a building search.
For the Rescue station, CERTs were led through the burn building in a sample floor search, where students learned the importance of the buddy system and maintaining situational awareness. They also learned how to do a proper interior search -- keeping the same hand on a wall and following it around until you get back to the entrance, while keeping track of potential hazards, victims, entrances, and exits.

In CERT training, each class builds on what the students learned the previous classes, and lays the groundwork for the next. In the second class, CERTs began to learn how to function while wearing their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and got a view of what a disaster response looks like. Their training will get much more hands-on in the following weeks.

Joe Loong, volunteer Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT, is an editorial content and community engagement consultant. You can email him at