Monday, October 13, 2014

Looking in on Fairfax County CERT Class 87 in McLean

Last week, Jeffrey Katz, Volunteer Liaison with Fairfax County Fire & Rescue, noted that we hit a milestone, with over 100 people currently in training to become Fairfax County CERTs.

Hitting 100 was only possible because we don't just train CERTs at the Fire and Rescue Academy; instructors train CERTs at locations throughout Fairfax County. Currently, we've got Classes 85 and 86 being held at the Fire Academy, Class 87 in McLean, and Class 88 in Burke. By providing CERT classes where people live, we help increase awareness of CERT and make it easier for people all over the county to take CERT training.

(If your community group can get a minimum of 12 people to commit to CERT training, we'll send instructors to your location, free! If you're interested, please email for more info.)

Peeking in on Class 87

I got the chance to help out with the second class of Fairfax County CERT Class 87, most of whose members heard about the training through the McLean Citizen Association.

For seven weeks, CERT 87 is meeting at the Old Firehouse Teen Center in McLean. As the name suggests, it's a former firehouse in the heart of McLean that's been converted into a teen center, complete with murals, a disco ball, and a checkerboard dance floor.

Instructor Mike Forgy teaches CERT students in front of Saturn. All photos: Joe Loong

Although the decor is a little funky, the curriculum is pure CERT. On this night, students were learning about Disaster Management and the CERT way of doing things, including determining rescue priorities; the CALMeR method of organization (Command, Accountability, Logistics, Medical, Rescue); and the SAFE priorities for rescue (Survey scene, Attach tags, Fix life-threats, Extricate victims).

After the lecture, CERT students geared up and went through a round-robin of demonstrations for each of the CALMeR functions, to learn more about the role each part plays in incident response.

I was demonstrating the functions of Rescue, starting with showing how to properly mark a building, then leading the students on a lap of the teen center, showing safe search techniques and pointing out potential hazards they might face in a disaster situation.

Although it's different from being in a burn building at the Fire Academy, training in the community shows students the realism of responding to disasters in real places where real people live, work, and play.

Snapshots of Class 87 Members

I asked a few of the members of Class 87 why they were taking CERT training. Here are their responses:

Name: Darren Ewing

Occupation: Financial Advisor

Reason for Taking CERT Training: Darren, who's active with the McLean Citizens Association, has deep roots in Fairfax County and wants to be able to help and give back to the community, and do something for the greater good.
Name: Maria Booth

Occupation: Technical Recruiter

Reason for Taking CERT Training: Maria, taking the class along with her husband, heard about the class through the McLean Community Center's newsletter, and thought that CERT training would give her good information to help her family and neighbors in case of emergency.

Name: Sam Shanker (left) and Thomas Shanker (right)

Occupation: College student and news editor, respectively.

Reason for Taking CERT Training: Sam, a student at Middlebury College, had CERT training recommended to him, and thought it would be something good to do for the community. His father Thomas, an editor with the New York Times, is active in the community and wanted to take the CERT training to increase the safety of the community.

Remember, if your community group can get a minimum of 12 people to commit to CERT training, we'll send instructors to your location, free! If you're interested, please email  for more info.

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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