Friday, April 17, 2015

GMU Students Complete CERT Training at the Fairfax Fire & Rescue Academy

For six weeks, 30 George Mason University students have been meeting in the campus Recreation and Athletic Complex for Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training, part of their coursework for HEAL 205 - Principles of Accident Causation and Prevention. (See our previous article on how CERT training fits into the GMU students' curriculum: CERT Training Prepares George Mason Students for the "Big & Bad.")

In classroom and hands-on training, the students have learned to deal with big emergencies where first responders might be delayed, including earthquakes, tornadoes, and active shooter events. Along the way, they've learned disaster response skills like how to assess, triage, and treat survivors of mass casualty events; how to use simple tests, duct tape, and rags to stop the "3 Killers" (obstructed airways, major bleeding, and shock) in 30 seconds or less; how to perform search and rescue in moderately damaged buildings; and most importantly, how to keep themselves safe while they help others.

Now, it's time to leave GMU and put those skills to the test in a graduation exercise on new and unfamiliar territory: the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Academy -- the very same facility where the county's firefighters and EMTs train.

The Actors Arrive
While the students get organized and put on their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), CERT staffers get busy applying moulage, or wound makeup, to the volunteer victim actors (many of whom are GMU students recruited for the occasion) portraying disaster survivors.

A few of the victim actors who participated in the drill. All are wearing moulage (wound makeup), simulating lacerations and impalement by debris (wood and glass). All photos: Joe Loong
With their fake wounds and acting skills, live human actors greatly increase the challenge (as well as the benefits) of the training exercise.

Facing the Fire
However, before the GMU CERT students begin the final exercise, they first must face off against an instructor-controlled fire, and put it out using a fire extinguisher:

CERT fire suppression teams consist of two people: One person to operate the extinguisher, and a buddy who watches out for hazards. Each student gets a chance to try both roles.

Also, as a perk of being at the Fire Academy, students get the chance to operate a fire hose:

GMU CERT students operate a fire hose outside the burn building, under the guidance of Fairfax County firefighters.

Facing the Scenario
With the preliminaries out of the way, the evening's main course begins. The drill's scenario: A tornado strikes the GMU campus, inflicting heavy damage. The GMU CERT students must go to a damaged dorm (represented here by Burn Building A), and must assess the scene, begin disaster operations, and help survivors until professional responders arrive.

The Command Staff sets up, establishing a Command Post, Medical area, and Logistics cache, as well as deploying teams of rescuers to size up the scene and determine if it's safe to begin search and rescue activities.

The Command staff track Rescue efforts and issue orders at the Incident Command Post.

When cleared to begin, Rescue teams are assigned to search specific areas of the darkened, damaged building. When they find survivors, the GMU students must quickly assess each one, treating only life-threatening bleeding, sucking chest wounds, or closed airways, then give each survivor a Green, Yellow, Red, or Black tag (indicating their treatment priority) and move on to the next survivor. 

CERT Rescue team members assist a survivor and record her status to report back to Command.

Because this is a mass casualty scenario, the student rescuers have a goal of spending only 30 seconds on each survivor, so they can do the greatest good for the greatest number of people. After they complete their initial task, they report back to the Incident Commander, who assembles a picture of the overall disaster scene, and uses that information to issue followup assignments.

CERT rescuers use simple tests, like squeezing fingernails to check perfusion, to quickly determine a survivor's status. They also treat major bleeding with pressure dressings, as seen above.

Meanwhile, the Logistics team gathers needed supplies, including tarps, bandaging material, and stretchers, which transport teams will use to bring survivors back to Medical.

CERTs use a stretcher to transport a survivor back to Medical.

At first, the Medical area is quiet. However, as Rescue teams bring in survivors, each one needs to be reassessed, treated, and given ongoing care. As the disaster operation grows in size and complexity, so does the Medical area.

CERT rescuers deliver survivors to the Red-tag section of the Medical area.

For the GMU CERT students, the entire exercise scene is stressful, complicated, and confusing... just like in a real disaster. They utilize the skills they've learned in class to cope and adapt as they work to help survivors, while keeping themselves safe.

After the exercise concludes, the students meet to debrief and assess their performance. Then, there is cake.

GMU adjunct faculty member (and CERT) Nancy Chamberlain cuts cake for the newly minted CERTs.
Most of the GMU students will go on to the health or education fields, working in public schools or public facilities. Hopefully, they'll never need to employ the mass casualty response skills they learned in CERT. However, if something does occur, they'll be well-equipped to help themselves and others.

Congratulations to the new GMU student CERTs of Class 90, and special thanks to all the volunteer victim actors, CERT staffers, and GMU adjunct faculty member Nancy Chamberlain for her innovative approach in integrating CERT training into the curriculum.

For more photos from the exercise, check out the CERT Class 90 Final Exercise album on the Fairfax County CERT Facebook page.

Fairfax County CERT offers free training several times a year at the Fire Academy and locations throughout the community. The next Academy CERT class begins April 20, 2015, with another starting May 18. For more information and more upcoming dates, please visit About CERT Training.

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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