I recently had the pleasure to complete a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team ) class offered by the Vallejo Fire Department. After 6 weeks of class every Tuesday evening which totaled 28 hours of instruction, demonstration and practice, that all came to completion on a beautiful Saturday morning on Mare Island with a final written exam, practical/drill and the breaking of bread between us new team members and our firefighter instructors.
The instructors were fantastic, all of them seasoned veterans sharing their years of experience and knowledge. The CERT program coordinator for Vallejo is Captain Eric Strom who is an excellent instructor, very good speaker who’s easy to listen too with a great sense of humor. Not once did I feel bored or lulled into a nap, but that also could have been due to the robust firehouse coffee. Captain Strom had a fantastic support group of fellow first responders as instructors; Battalion Chief Cliff Campbell, Captains Morty Culverwell and Art Gonzales and Engineer Ben Hill were all just as captivating and that’s what makes the course so worthwhile. You are not only learning the materials in the course guidebook on what to do, which is pretty much black and white but you’re getting first hand accounts of actual real life incidents from first responders and what their thought process was on how they handled a situation. You learn a lot including about our city fire department and you develop even more respect for what they deal with on a daily basis. You also can network with other Vallejoans taking the course and build bridges.
I highly recommend the course. Why should you take it? The reality is cities of all sizes struggle daily with their budgets and the cost of firefighters, police, infrastructure repair & maintenance, parks and recreation, public transit, administrative staffing, courts, pensions and lawsuits. The level of city services are not what they once were and that includes the number of police and fire on duty. That means for those of you who live in areas where natural disasters can occur, like tornadoes in Oklahoma, hurricanes in Florida or earthquakes in California, when they happen, you and your family could be on your own for a few days if not weeks waiting for gas, water and electricity to return along with other services. In Vallejo there are only 21 firefighters on duty each shift, that means in the event of a severe quake, they would be tied up responding to the hundreds of calls they would receive after. Depending on the conditions of the roads in and out of town, additional off duty first responders could be greatly delayed if at all able to get here. The hospitals will be flooded with all kinds of injuries from walking wounded to severe trauma. This mean you will have to shut off your own gas and water if needed as the fire department responds to the areas hardest hit and/or where fires may be happening. It means that the fire department will use their resources the most efficient way possible to save the most lives. So your son’s broken arm may be an immediate priority to you, but the burning seniors center will be the priority to them.
We were lucky in this town for the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 but we sure got a wake up call from the 2014 Napa quake and this program teaches you how to be prepared by putting together a disaster kit, emergency supplies and how you can take care of yourself, family and then neighbors, like a broken arm, after a disaster, allowing firefighters to concentrate on the higher priority calls. It’s like car insurance. You hope you never have to use it but if you are in an accident or it’s stolen, you have piece of mind. Same with the disaster kit. You hope you never need it but nice to know it’s there.
You can take what you want out of the class. Self preservation after the big one, doomsday preparation but I think the intent is to help develop a sense of community. All to often you don’t know a neighbor until something bad like a disaster comes along. Sure you nod or wave at each other but how well do you know them? Are they frail, do they have physical limitations or other factors that limit their mobility. Do they live alone and will they need assistance in an emergency or do they have skills that can help everyone in the neighborhood? Don’t wait for the next disaster to meet them, get to know them now before you’re thrown together into a blender cause the anonymity happens. My wife and I had lived in our first apartment together for 8 months before I was transferred to the bay area. The day we were moving, the woman who lived in the apartment next door came out and asked if we were moving in. Never did get her name.
Don’t know when the next class is scheduled to happen but if you’re interested it may be a good idea to email secretary, City of Vallejo, Fire Department, Fire Prevention Division: Shirley.Herbert@city of vallejo.net and let her know you’re interested in taking the next class.
Next installment we’ll take a look at putting together an emergency supply chest.