Friday, September 5, 2014

What to Expect Your First Night of Fairfax County CERT Training

Next week marks the beginning of Fairfax County CERT's Fall 2014 classes at the Fire Academy. Class 85 is Monday nights, Class 86 is Wednesday nights. (In addition, we'll have two more Fall CERT classes at locations in the community: Vienna and Burke. Stay tuned for more details.)

Before Your First Class
When you've registered for CERT training, you'll get a welcome email from Lead Instructor Steve Willey. Please read it carefully, as it tells you what you'll learn and gives you directions to the Fire Academy, a class syllabus, some forms, and a list of what you'll need to bring, including:
  • Work gloves (we recommend mechanic-style gloves that fit well)
  • Latex or equivalent exam gloves (you'll use a bunch over the course of the training)
  • Two rolls of quality gray duct tape
  • Retractable black Sharpie magic marker
  • Government-issued photo ID
  • The completed forms
  • An empty 3-inch three-ring binder (to hold your class materials)
Stuff you'll need on your first night of CERT class: work gloves, duct tape, exam gloves, retractable Sharpie. Not pictured: Government-issued photo ID, a 3-inch three-ring binder, and your completed forms.
Items you shouldn't bring to class include any form of tobacco product (this also means e-cigs), sandals, flip-flops, or any form of open-toed shoe.

For clothing, wear weather-appropriate clothes you don't mind getting dirty -- there are locker rooms at the Academy where you can change.

Knowing Is Half the Battle
Although there are plenty of hands-on activities, CERT training is largely about knowledge and mindset. Before the class starts (or as soon as you can after) we recommend you take the free, online independent study course, FEMA IS-317: Introduction to CERT.

The course will give you an overview of CERT and a firm foundation to build on, but it's not a substitute for class. In class, you'll also get real-world examples of how things work (and don't work) in the field from instructors who've "been there, done that." Plus, you'll go through exercises and activities, like searching buildings, carrying patients, and putting out small fires.

A word about those activities: CERT training is for all ages and abilities. You don't have to do anything you're not capable or comfortable doing. So don't worry -- it's not boot camp.

Get to Class on Time!
Classes begin promptly at 7pm. Especially if you're not familiar with the facility, give yourself time to get through traffic in Fairfax, find the Academy (if you're heading south on West Ox Road, it's after the Fairfax County Animal Shelter -- make a right at the blue sign just after the school bus parking lot), and find parking.

The second of two blue signs marking the Fire and Rescue Academy.
Also, class runs from 7pm to 10:30pm. For real -- there's a lot of learning to cover. Some nights you might end a bit earlier or a bit later. For breaks, the Academy has vending machines and a kitchenette.

About the Fire Academy
Like we say, CERTs who train at the Fire Academy train in the same place as Fairfax County Fire & Rescue personnel. Some nights, there may be firefighters and EMTs training in adjacent classrooms, in the High Bay (the big garage), or in one of the nearby burn buildings.

Also note that construction on the brand-new Academy expansion is just about finished. You'll be taking your CERT training in the classroom area in the "old" part of the building, usually Classroom 1.

To get to the classroom area, you'll typically park in the parking lot (by the big satellite dishes and antenna), walk in through the High Bay, and walk down the hallways until you find it (which is filled with displays gifted by previous  firefighter and EMT training classes).

The Gear
At your first class, you'll receive gear including a CERT backpack, helmet, reflective vest, crowbar, kneepads, headlamp, N95 dust mask, and other items you'll use in training (including that very same night).

Members of CERT Class 83 try on their gear on their first class.
Although not required, many CERTs choose to supplement their gear, buying items to better suit their needs.

Other Stuff
Your syllabus will cover the subject matter you'll learn each week. Each week will build on what you've learned previously, so it's important that you attend every class.

In addition to what you learn in the classroom, as you progress in class, you'll do things like conduct searches in a burn building:

Towards the end of training, you'll have a chance to put out a small fire with a fire extinguisher:

And eventually, you'll end with a final exercise, where you'll put everything you've learned together, in a realistic simulation, complete with victim actors (note that you're responsible for recruiting at least two victim actors):

Other than that, pay attention to your instructors, ask questions, and have fun! If you have any questions about Fairfax County CERT training, you can ask in the comments or email me at the address below.

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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