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Citizens acquire disaster relief skills

16 receive disaster response training and graduate from CERT

by: PHOTO COURTESY OF ST. HELENS POLICE DEPARTMENT - The final exam for St. Helens Community Emergency Response Team consisted of a number of realistic drills. Volunteers used makeup to create the illusion of real victims during the exam.A select number of Columba County citizens have taken it upon themselves to prepare for potential disaster and help share in the responsibilities assigned to local police and fire agencies.

Sixteen Columbia County residents graduated from a six-week St. Helens Community Emergency Response Team training course last week. Students had their final exam and graduation Thursday, May 8, said St. Helens Police Chief Terry Moss, who taught many of the training courses along with Columbia Rive Fire & Rescue.

Moss said graduates are trained in how to prepare for a number of “disasters,” having acquired skills in fire suppression, first aid, search and rescue, disaster psychology, and more. St. Helens CERT has graduated about 200 responders in its 10 years of existence, Moss said, adding the police department often reaches out to CERT graduates for additional personnel.

“From here — because the chances of a huge event happening that requires this effort to have graduates come forward is probably pretty slim — we focus on little things that happen in the community,” Moss said. “We use them all year for things like traffic control and fun runs. They also staff the first-aid at the Columbia County Fair and help with Rainier Days. We try to use them as often as we can to help plant for police and fire’s lack of staffing. They help with Hood to Coast too.”

The training is designed to teach citizens to respond to major disasters until professional emergency response personnel arrive, and to continue to assist professionals once at the scene.

The final exam, Moss said, was a simulated disaster involving multiple scenarios.

“We tried to get them to practice all their skills in one event,” Moss said, adding students had to conduct a search and rescue for multiple victims in a building, suppress a fire, administer first aid to a number of patients and address their psychological needs.

Moss said CERT participants vary in age from high school students to seniors “and everywhere in between.”

“They’re a huge resource for us,” Moss said. “They’re very valuable. They’ve proven themselves over and over again.”

St. Helens CERT holds its six-week training course once annually in the spring. Those interested in CERT training can visit the St. Helens Police Department website at http://www.ci.st-helens.or.us/police/ and click the link, “Community Emergency Response Team.”

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