Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Meet Some of Our New CERTs

We meet a lot of people who go through training with the Fairfax County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). They're a diverse bunch, but they have at least one thing in common: They want to be more prepared so they can help themselves and their communities in case a major disaster strikes. Here are profiles of some of the Fairfax County CERT graduates from our recent classes:

Victor Hampton-Stone (Class 94) works at the Apple Store, and served as Incident Commander (IC) during the Class 94 final exercise. He found out about the class through co-workers (some of whom who were also signed up for an upcoming CERT class).

When I asked Victor about his experience as IC, he said it was quite challenging, and while it may look easy, it's definitely not. He also noted that the live human factor added both difficulty and motivation for the CERTs, with everyone putting pressure on themselves: "You need to save that person."

Overall, he learned a lot from CERT training, calling it a great experience working with friends, and people who came to be friends.

Rich Kline (Class 94) had previously taken CERT training with a program in Maryland. He noted that while the core curriculum was the same, the training he received in Fairfax County CERT was quite a bit different than what he'd taken before.

Working Medical during his class's final drill, he shared a lesson learned for rescuers: No matter how eager you are to get back into the disaster scene, when you get your patients to Medical, you can't just "dump and run." Instead, rescuers need to make sure that patients are uniquely and clearly identified with team number, victim number, and triage color, and that this information is communicated to the Medical lead for accountability.

(Incidentally, of the members of Class 94, Rich had, by far, the longest drive to get to the Fire Academy.)

Monte Sanchez (Class 95) works in IT for Kaiser Permanente. He also served as Incident Commander for his Class 95 final exercise. Like many ICs, he mentioned challenges he had communicating with members and coordinating response activities, but noted that CERT members used good teamwork to work with each other in their respective roles.

An added complication for Class 95 was that, having previously had their classes at the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department (Fire Station 402), the final was the first time they set foot at the Fire Academy... making it completely unfamiliar territory, to which they had to adapt.

Lynne Larabee (Class 95) is in finance. She and a friend had heard about CERT and decided to take the class together. However, Lynne wasn't able to take the Class 95 final exercise with her class, so she joined Class 94 for theirs, working on a Rescue team.

Although Lynne had been a bit nervous coming into her final with people with whom she hadn't previously worked, she said it was gratifying to see how communicating with her new teammates brought everything together, letting people step into the right roles.

Paris Fontenot (Class 97, on the left) is a student, and learned about CERT through her friend, co-worker, and CERT classmate Alison. Paris decided to take the class because she thought that CERT sounded like a good concept. When I spoke to her (at the end of the second of the seven classes), she already felt that the training was very informative and that she was learning a lot.

Alison Huang (Class 97, on the right) is also a student. Alison has a personal connection to CERT, having learned about the program from her boyfriend, an EMT who is currently enrolled in Firefighter School in Fairfax County. This means he also trains at the Fire Academy... though not at the same time as the CERTs. (Another big difference is, when he goes into a burn building, it's probably on fire.)

Evelyn Turner (Class 97) is a retired teacher, and learned about CERT from a fellow member of the Vienna Women's Club. Evelyn, who has already participated in disaster recovery efforts with the Mennonite Disaster Service and Day to Serve, wanted to expand on her skill set, as well as connect with other people involved in helping others though disaster response and recovery.

Will Gustafson (Class 97) is a marketing manager at an IT services company. He learned about the CERT program by talking to CERTs who were staffing an Outreach table at a "Touch-a-Truck" event in May. Nine days later, he was taking his first CERT class. (We on the Outreach team love these kinds of stories, since we can directly connect new CERT student signups to our Outreach activities.)

Finally, here's a special story featuring two more members from Class 97. Bobby Shrestha (left) works for the Department of the Navy; Suraj Poudel (right) is a sales manager. Both were born in Nepal, and have friends and family members living there, including some affected by the major earthquake that struck in April.

As the response to the disaster unfolded, Bobby saw local news stories about the  Virginia Task Force 1, Fairfax County's elite urban search and rescue team, and their deployment to Nepal. He shared that information with Suraj, and together they sought out more information about Task Force 1, learning about the Fairfax County CERT program in the process. They felt that CERT training was a way they could prepare themselves to help others in case of a disaster, as well as give back to their communities. (Through CERT, they also learned about a volunteer opportunity to staff a call center run by USAID's Center for International Disaster Information, set up to handle inquiries about the Nepal earthquake response.)

We love telling stories about our CERTs. Whether you're a new Fairfax County CERT graduate or a longtime participant in the program, if you'd like to share your CERT experience with CERT in a profile, please email me at blog@fairfaxcountycert.org.

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

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