SANDPOINT — Slowly, emergency crews carefully made their way into a building hard hit by a windstorm.
“Is anyone here?” A strong voice breaks the darkness, punctuated by a flashlight piercing into the corners and around the debris. “Hi, my name’s Tom. I’m here with CERT. Anyone that can hear me, come to the sound of my voice.”
As the flashlight moves across a victim trapped under debris, others hurt in the disaster slowly come forward, some limping, others holding an arm gingerly.
Fortunately, in this case, the scenario was part of “finals day” for Community Emergency Response Team training, held at the county’s training building across from the Bonner County Admin Building.
“It kind of brings it to reality to the people who have just gone through the classroom (training),” said Pam Brockus, chief deputy for Bonner County Emergency Management, which holds the class. “They get a realistic look at what it could be like because there area some pretty good actors taking part.”
Scenarios for the final mock disaster — this last session featured a devastating windstorm — are based on things that could actually happen in the county, Brockus said. Past scenarios have included an earthquake and other disasters.
The CERT program is sponsored by Bonner County Emergency Management for public education, as well as to help train the department’s volunteers.
“This educates volunteers about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations,” Brockus said.
Saturday’s mock disaster served as the final session of the 24-hour class, which was spread over several days. As part of the disaster, 15 “victims” are made up with moulage disaster makeup and prepped on their story. The new trainees then go through the four stations to put what they’ve learned in the classroom into practice as past graduates act as leaders for each team.
There are four stations during the mock disaster to simulate the four different aspects taught during the classroom training: a cribbing station, where the volunteers use tools or other means to lift something from a person trapped underneath; a fire station, where volunteers safely put out a fire; search and rescue, where victims are safely located and extricated from a situation; and a treatment area, which those “hurt” in the disaster receive care and are triaged based on what systems they are portraying.
There are 25 students in each class, with this latest session marking the 100th overall person taught in Bonner County through the CERT program, Brockus said.
Brockus said the goal of the training is to teach volunteers safety, how to take care of themselves and respond appropriately in each of the key areas taught in the class. In addition, they learn the basis of disaster recovery and psychological first aid. The subjects are all taught by first-responders who are certified to train their subject.
“Volunteers are a great asset to the community, the county, and these guys when you ask them to, they show up and they go to work,” Brockus said. “It’s great. Love our volunteers.”
While some of those who took part in the latest class are from Bonner County, others are from Kootenai County, Spokane Valley, Newman Lake, and Boundary County because the local class is the closest one available.
“Our overall focus is just community resiliency,” BCEM Director Bob Howard said. “Getting everybody prepared and help them take care of themselves until help arrives.”
Because it takes first-responders time to get to victims in disasters, CERT-trained volunteers play a critical role in ensuring those who need help, get it, Howard said.
“These people have the basics, the knowledge to help out until a first responder arrives,” he added.
Of the 100 people who have gone through the CERT training, 62 of them are either BCEM volunteers or have become volunteers, Brockus said.
“We call it a ‘catch and release’ kind of thing where they have the option to come through, take the class and know that they’re trained for their own community, their own home, their family and such,” she added. “Some want to go a little further and assist us after their families are taken care of or their family isn’t in the area of the emergency and they can help, they have that option.”
Bonner County Emergency Management aims for two CERT training sessions per year. It depends, however, on interest for the class as well as the availability of instructors. The goal, Brockus and Howard said, is to have as many people in the community trained in the event of a disaster as possible.
“The more people that we can get trained, the better,” Howard said.
Brockus said BCEM wanted to send out huge thanks to Oxarc in Ponderay for donating the fire extinguishers as well as to the victims, the subject matter experts who came to instruct — especially the department’s certified CERT instructors Bill Steele, Glenn Treadler, Samuel “Ranger Rick” Hall and DB “Bear” Thomas — as well as to the previous year’s CERT volunteers who organized and help put the finals day together.
For those interested in taking part in the next CERT training, they can email Brockus at email@example.com to have their name included on a sign-up list. Once there is enough interest, a program will be put together and instructors found.
Caroline Lobsinger can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @CarolDailyBee.