CERT, the Community Emergency Response Team, is currently recruiting volunteers for its next training class, which begins in March.
By Ronni Newton
The Town of West Hartford established a new Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program in 2021, graduating the first cohort last summer, and since then 80 members of the community have completed the training, and their volunteer work has made a profound impact on multiple town operations.
“The group has really taken off,” said Bob McCue, a retired assistant chief with the West Hartford Police Department who is now deputy director of the town’s Office of Emergency Management and the CERT coordinator.
“CERT team members have been incredible,” Fire Chief Greg Priest, who is also director of the Office of Emergency Management said in a report to the Town Council’s Public Safety Committee this week. He expressed his appreciation in particular for the many volunteers who have stood out in the cold distributing N95 masks and COVID-19 at-home test kits.
The town received an allocation of 230,000 N95 masks, and distribution has been taking place through a series of drive-up events held at least once a week at the former St. Brigid School, which the town bought last summer, at 100 Mayflower Street.
McCue said there have recently been 40 different members of CERT volunteering to assist at these events, and it’s made a big difference. “The town would have still been to [distribute masks], but not as fast,” he said. And, it would have required dozens of town personnel, such as police or other first responders, to take time away from other activities. While the Department of Public Works and police assist in the mask and test kit distributions, they aren’t needing to allocate 20 employees on a Saturday morning.
Since the program’s inception, members of CERT have logged more than 1,200 volunteer hours, McCue said. That includes distribution of more than 100,000 N95 masks and 2,500 test kits to those who are symptomatic and cannot obtain kits otherwise.
The intent of training members of the community to be part of CERT is to have individuals become “force multipliers,” McCue said, taking on critically important tasks that might otherwise need to be done by first responders during emergencies or large events in town.
“The purpose of CERT is to prepare the community as well,” he said, so that more people just know what to do in the event of an emergency. “The key with CERT is that they don’t replace anyone, they free up resources,” which is more important than ever at a time when the staff is already stretched thin in the police and fire departments as well as the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District.
Since the program’s launch, CERT members have assisted at the following town activities:
- Flu Vaccination Clinics
- COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics
- N95 Mask distribution events
- COVID-19 Test Kit Distribution events
- UniteCT Rental Assistance Events
- Tropical Storm Henri Refuge Center Management
- PPE logistical support
- Public Safety Day Event sponsored by WHPD, WHFD and WHBHD.
- Park Road Parade
- West Hartford Library Children’s Concert Series
There have already been two training classes, and volunteers are being recruited for the third class, which begins Wednesday, March 2, 2022. There are four weeks of virtual Wednesday night sessions, beginning at 6:30 p.m. and lasting for 90 minutes, as well as one full-day in-person class on Saturday, April 2, and another half-day Saturday session at the end of the program, April 9, which will include a graduation ceremony. At the graduation, all trainees receive two CERT shirts and a backpack that includes a reflective vest and important safety and first aid supplies.
Other agencies and individuals, including the American Red Cross and a local veterinarian, are involved in the training sessions.
Current CERT members range in age from 20 to late-70s. Members are required to be at least 18, but there is no upper age limit, McCue said.
“Training is geared to all abilities,” he said, and there is no physical requirement. Volunteers can participate in the types of activities that match their interests and abilities, but all will be prepared.
The training modules for CERT include:
- Disaster Preparedness
- Disaster Psychology
- Animal Protection in Disasters
- CERT organization (ICS)
- Terrorism/ Active Shooter
- Disaster Medical Operations
- Fire Safety
- Light Search and Rescue
McCue said for the upcoming session, future CERT members from Bloomfield, Hartford, and Ellington will be training alongside those from West Hartford.
The state requires each CERT group to have a specific focus, and the West Hartford team’s is shelter management – and Conard High School is a designated shelter – but that doesn’t limit their skills or activities.
The training “is geared toward everyday people,” McCue said. “It isn’t going to make anyone a first responder.”
He emphasized that even after graduating from the training, there is no obligation to work at events. What’s important is having more people, from all over town, who are able to assist in emergencies.
“It’s really just a good group. We’ve got folks from all walks of life, all neighborhoods.”
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