Thursday, July 17, 2014

Welcome, New CERTs of Fairfax County CERT Class 83

On June 23, the students of Fairfax County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Class 83 faced a scenario replicating what had happened in real life barely a week before: Severe thunderstorm activity causing heavy building damage, downed trees, and widespread power outages throughout the county.

In this graduation exercise, CERTs were called to the scene of two heavily damaged apartment buildings, and challenged to apply the disaster response knowledge and skills they'd learned over the past seven weeks.

However, first they had to get through fire suppression training.

Putting Out Fires
Using a propane-fueled fire simulator as their target, teams of two CERTs, using the P.A.S.S. technique they learned in class (Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep), used fire extinguishers to attack a blaze controlled by Instructor Brian Talbott.

CERT took turns performing both roles on a fire suppression team: extinguisher operator and safety lookout. Photo: Joe Loong

Preparations and Moulage
Meanwhile, as CERTs were extinguishing fires, CERT staffers and instructors were busy setting up the target buildings and applying moulage (realistic wound makeup) to the victim actors.

CERT staffers consult after preparing the fire suppression station and placing simulated hazards around the scene. Building A, the primary target for the exercise, is background left. Photo: Carlos Santiso
CERT Laura and son Etienne show that being a victim actor is a family affair, as Moulage Lead Susy applies wound makeup to simulate burns. Photo: Joe Loong
Victim actors show off their moulage, or wound makeup, simulating a variety of burns, lacerations, and impalements. Photo: Joe Loong

Neighboring Response
One of the perks of the Fairfax County CERT program is that the training usually occurs at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Academy -- the same place where the county's first responders train. That was particularly evident this night, as a training exercise took place in an adjacent building, complete with smoke, flashing fire engine lights, and firefighters in full turnout gear.

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue responders train in an adjacent building at the same time as the CERT exercise. Photo: Carlos Santiso

Challenging the Darkness
Unlike other recent CERT final exercises, Class 83's took place at night, and the darkness provided an extra challenge to CERTs as they mounted their response to the simulated disaster.

By the light of their headlamps, CERT rescuers rapidly assess and treat a victim actor. Photo: Joe Loong
In addition, several victim actors were positioned in awkward and constrained spaces at the tops and bottoms of staircases, giving CERT rescuers additional considerations to deal with as they worked to triage, treat, and transport them to the Medical area.  

A CERT rescue team encounters and begins assessing a victim actor at the foot of an outdoor staircase. Photo: Joe Loong

CERTs maneuver a victim actor in a tight spot at the top of a stairwell inside Building A. Photo: Joe Loong

Also, the victim actors, coached to provide realistically challenging portrayals of their injuries, increased the stress level for CERTs. Some victim actors, like Fran of CERT class 72, didn't require much coaching at all:

Incident Commander Greg Campion led CERT activities at the Command Post. A military officer, Greg decided to get involved with CERT after serving as an Interagency Fellow at FEMA.

When asked afterwards, Greg's assessment was that the CERTs performed well, and attributed much of their success to the quality and skill of each of the division leads.

 Incident Commander Greg and Accountability Lead Sarah (left side, table) coordinate CERT activities and issue instructions. Photo: Joe Loong
Accountability Lead Sarah Johnson was praised by command staff as being very capable and detail-oriented as she tracked the activities of CERT teams. At times, she worked with Greg as a de factor Deputy IC, a fact all the more notable considering she's a first-year college student who recently turned 18 years old, and didn't find out about her role in the exercise until that evening.

In addition, Lead Instructor Steve Willey was impressed by the ingenuity of the CERTs, who used a white sheet duct-taped to plywood backing as the command staff's status board (which he later took to use as an example to future CERT classes):

The status board used by Accountability to track the actions of rescue teams and other activities. Photo: Carlos Santiso.
Congratulations to all the new CERTs of Fairfax County CERT Class 83, and thanks to all the victim actors, staff, and others who participated in the exercise.

See more photos from the exercise on the Fairfax County CERT Facebook page:

The next training classes at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Academy start in September -- click to see more details and register: CERT 85, Mondays beginning Sept. 8, and CERT 86, Wednesdays beginning Sept. 10.

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

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