Last weekend I had the pleasure of taking FEMA’s basic CERT (Citizen’s Emergency Response Team) class at my local fire department. Say what you will about FEMA, but this class is a prepper’s dream. Yes, you will get a lot of information that you already know, but you will be surprised at what you don’t. I have been prepping for a number of years, but this class humbled me. We are all beginners, no matter how long we have been at this. Here are a few things I wasn’t expecting:
- You will meet like-minded folks from all different walks of life. We had a geologist, parents, fire and law enforcement personnel, HAM operators, and all manner of retired bad-asses and crazy geniuses in our group. This is an incredible networking opportunity!
- You probably had a hunch that in a major disaster, help would be scarce. In your class, you will find out what your city/county resources really are and how they will be allocated. When you see where most folks fit in on that list, you will be, lets say, inspired to get your preps in order and truly be able to take care of yourself and your family should disaster strike.
- You will learn about disaster psychology, which is often overlooked and so very important when dealing with panicked zombies, and/or your neighbors.
We covered CERT organization and ICS (Incident Command System). ICS is the structure under which CERT, and other responders, work. You will likely be required to take an online prerequisite which describes this chain of command. Our group was particularly fortunate to have a fire chief for a teacher, as he is very familiar with how things really go down in an emergency, and with the importance of having trained people in place should roads be impassable. Your first goal as a CERT is to take care of yourself and your family. Then, and only then, do you move on to help others. This helps ensure that you do not become another casualty for professional responders to deal with, when (perhaps days or weeks later) they can finally get to you.
I was delighted to come to class and find an EMT there to teach us all about triage and emergency medical treatment. The triage section was emotionally difficult. Nobody wants to think about sticking that black tag on another human being. The pictures were graphic and real. Ouch. I was eternally thankful the Chief had strong coffee for us early on a Saturday morning. The emergency medical treatment section was fascinating. Should I ever have to deal with a severed limb situation I feel quite prepared. How to treat a blocked airway or shock? Covered. What are the different types of burns and how do you deal with them? Covered. What do you do with someone who is running around with a head wound and shouting obscenities at you? Yep. Also, I got some great tips on things to put in my emergency medical kit. As in, what the pros are carrying. (Combat Action Tourniquet & SAM Splints)
Next came the fire suppression segment. I’m sure we all have fire extinguishers, but how well can you use one? It’s not just point and shoot, there is a finesse to it. Also, there are several different types and sizes. Does yours have a gauge? It should! Not only did we learn all about fire and fire extinguishers, but we got to don our gloves and goggles and put out a real friggin fire! BOO-YAH!
On this day we started with light search and rescue. It was all about keeping yourself safe while helping your neighbor who may be trapped in his home after a disaster. You know those FEMA markings we all saw on houses after Katrina? They seemed cryptic and scary to a lot of us, but really they were the scrawlings made by helpful volunteers who were trying to save lives. They let people know the house has been searched and what/who was found inside. We learned methods for carrying the incapacitated out of a dangerous situation as well as how to evaluate whether a structure is even safe to go searching in.
Disaster psychology was next, and this was a rough one. How do you deal emotionally with those terrible things you can never un-see? It is so valuable to have a support network during and after a disaster. We all like to think that we will be able to keep on keepin’ on, but you have to keep in mind that you are not only the rescuer, but also a victim. These things are, as the Chief said, not things human beings were meant to see.
Next, there was a section on terrorism. Now, there is not a whole lot a CERT can do to help during a terrorist event, but this section includes a lot of info on sheltering in place.
We ended the day with a search and resucue simulation where we put our skills to the test. We broke out into Search, Rescue, and Medical Teams following and Incident Command Structure. We searched the firehouse and found someone (a dummy) trapped under a trailer and some downed wood. We used a leveraging and cribbing technique to extricate him, then evaluated his status. This is where it really hit home that drills are so very important. It took us a good 25 minutes from the time that we entered the building to the time we were evaluating him. We found that he was in shock, but the unbelievable part is we didn’t even see that he had a severed hand. Granted, this was a dummy, so no blood. But if we had done a proper head to toe check, we would have seen it. This guy was toast. Practice, practice, practice.