Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Class Highlights: CERT 94 - Fire Academy

Fairfax County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Class 94 started April 20, 2015, meeting Mondays and Wednesdays at the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Academy. I hadn't planned on following them through all seven of their classes (unlike in our Shadowing CERTs series), but somehow I ended up doing just that (assisting for six classes and popping in on the other one during a break in another training class).

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(Holding classes twice a week at the Academy is a relatively new model for our program, and it seems to be working well. CERTs get through the entire program in a month, and training seems to build up faster... despite the fact that students receive the same 25 hours of classroom and hands-on training as in the weekly class setting.)

CERT 94 kicked off with Class 1, which was all about introductions -- to the Academy, to their classmates, to the CERT concept, and to the hazards they may encounter in the community and during a disaster.

The students also received their CERT helmets and backpacks:

CERTs of Class 94 during their first class at the Academy. All photos: Joe Loong
Two days later, Class 2 began with a drill (as would all classes from this point on): Told to gear up, the students had little idea of what to do (they hadn't been taught much at this stage) as they were thrown into a simple drill.

Adjunct Instructor John Mayers acts as Incident Commander during the students' first drill.
Following the drill, the CERTs learned how to operate during a disaster response, including how to choose priorities, perform a size-up, and implement the Incident Command System. This was followed by a round-robin of demonstrations, where they went deeper in depthon the CERT division of labor (Command, Accountability, Logistics, Medical, and Rescue).

Beginning with Class 3, things started to get a lot more hands-on... and complicated. In their opening drill, the students started to encounter simulated victims -- both plywood and human -- that they had to deal with. Their subsequent classroom instruction built on this, introducing the CERTs to Disaster Medical Operations, or how to save lives and care for patients in a mass casualty scenario where professional responders are delayed.

CERTs gather simulated victims (plywood "gingerbread" people) in the High Bay during the drill.
Class 4 continued the CERTs' instruction in disaster medical operations. During their opening drill, students had to apply what they'd learned to date, conducting searches and rapidly triaging, tagging, and treating (and later transporting) survivors they encountered.

CERTs maneuver a simulated victim (a plywood "gingerbread" dummy) down the stairs of a burn building.
When they returned to the classroom, they learned about performing head-to-toe assessments and maintaining patient care in the Medical area for as long as it takes -- that is, until professional responders arrive.

After their opening drill (which again, built on everything the CERTs had previously learned), Class 5 was all about hazards, ranging from those they might find in the community, to ones at disaster scenes, to the threat of terrorism, to very real but invisible hazards like debilitating stress.

My patient's-eye-view while being carried on a blanket stretcher by a transport team.
Class 6, Light Search & Rescue Operations, incorporated safe search and size-up techniques, and added use of simple machines -- levers and wedges -- to move obstacles and extricate survivors. The CERTs then used their newly gained lifting and cribbing skills to practice moving stable and unstable loads.

CERTs practice lifting and cribbing techniques on a stable load, to which Volunteer Instructor Edgar Rodriguez has added his weight.
Because the Fire Academy was booked solid with training activities, the CERT's final exercise was pushed back to Wednesday, giving Class 94 a bonus "Class 6.5" in which to work on their skills. It was also a chance for Volunteer Instructor Edgar Rodriguez to play with a Bluetooth portable speaker broadcasting a loop of sound effects:

Two days later, the CERTs of Class 94 gathered for Class 7, their final exercise, where they had to put together everything they've learned -- from setting up Command, Accountability, Logistics, & Medical; to doing scene size-up; treating, triaging, and tagging patients in under 30 seconds; and everything else.

Plus, they had to do it facing live human victim actors made up with realistic moulage (fake wound makeup):

Victim actors show off their simulated wounds (contusions and lacerations).
First, the CERTs got to practice their fire suppression skills:

Then came the drill, where CERTs had to respond to a storm-ravaged apartment building and begin rescue operations, finding, treating, and caring for the survivors they encountered.

CERT rescuers perform a walking assist to get a survivor to Medical.
This exercise also included a few elements I'd never before seen in a CERT final exercise, including a simulated sucking chest wound that needed to be treated, and a simulated gas line that needed to be shut off:

A CERT rescuer treats a survivor, applying an occlusive dressing to a simulated sucking chest wound.

CERTs shut off a simulated natural gas supply line (with a SCBA air tank providing hissing sound effects).
Here, you can see video of search and rescue operations during the drill:

Finally, after a "hot wash" debrief, the CERTs completed their graduation final exercise at the Fire Academy, May 13, 2015.

Congratulations to the CERTs of Fairfax County CERT Class 94!
To the new Fairfax County CERTs of Class 94: Congratulations and welcome! We hope you'll continue to be active and train with our CERT program. To these trained CERTs and all others, we've got a great training opportunity coming up June 6, 2015 -- a CERT mass casualty exercise at the Virginia Task Force 1 Lorton Training Site. Sign up now!

CERT training is free and open to people who live or work in Fairfax County. For more information about CERT training, either at the Fire Academy or at locations throughout the community, see About CERT Training.

Joe Loong is a Blog Editor and Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT. You can email him at blog@fairfaxcountycert.org

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