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Training for an emergency

In the case of an emergency, what would you do?

For the first time in the Upper Valley, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) courses have been made available through the Snoqualmie Fire Department.

The program's objective is to educate participants on how to prepare for and assist in a catastrophe, explained Snoqualmie Fire Chief Bob Rowe. Covered topics include basic disaster response skills such as fire safety, search and rescue and medical operations.

In rural areas, you have neighbors helping neighbors during an emergency, Rowe said.

"This provides training to do it effectively and to make a difference," he added.

The CERT program is eight classes long and meets each Thursday evening. The cost of the program is $25 for materials; participants are able to keep emergency supplies including a hat, safety goggles, gloves, dust mask, backpack, flashlight and whistle as long as they reside in King County.

Upon satisfactory completion of the program, as tested by a simulated station at the end of the course, participants receive a certificate good for one year. To keep the certificate valid, CERT members must take at least one refresher course per year. The training is valid throughout King County.

Though drop-ins are not recommended once the course sequence has started, Rowe encouraged enrollment for the next set of classes, which he hopes to begin in June depending on instructor and student schedules.

Rowe recommended that participants be at least 14 years old and have mobile ability.

The course covers disaster preparedness, fire safety, medical operations (though not CPR because Rowe said that the CERT focus is to help the most amount of people in the least amount of time), light search and rescue, disaster psychology and team organization.

"I'm looking forward to getting this program going," he said, noting that the eventual goal is to provide CERT training for the entire Valley. Participants from anywhere in King County are welcome.

There have only been two CERT meetings so far, but the 16 inaugural participants say they are excited to become a part of CERT.

"During an emergency, you want to know what to do," said Barbara Atterton, a Snoqualmie resident who is attending the course with her 22-year-old daughter Jamie. "I want to help people."

At the Feb. 2 meeting, Lt. Mike Bailey taught students about disaster fire suppression, fire chemistry, hazardous materials and fire hazards, how to use fire extinguishers and more.

"If we can get more people to help us out in an emergency, that would be great," he said.

Bailey is one of 10 paid career firefighters in Snoqualmie, along with about 15 volunteers.

During an emergency, CERT members would assist local community members and provide information to fire and rescue crews, Rowe explained.

If there is a regional emergency, aid may be hours away, but in the meantime, CERTs can protect their families and their neighbors, Rowe said.

CERT instructor and Snoqualmie resident Patricia Johnson noted that anything can happen at any time, so preparation is key.

"It can make a huge difference in a disaster," she said.

Potential local issues include floods, mudslides, ice, snow and wind storms, volcanoes, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, hazardous-material exposure and more.

"What happens [during an emergency] is your adrenaline kicks in and if you haven't been trained and haven't practiced, you won't be able to keep your head straight," Johnson said. "I want my neighbors to know they can count on me."

In July 2005, Johnson became interested in participating in a CERT program and said that she was unable to find one in the Valley. She trained in Sammamish and decided she wanted to bring her training to her local community.

Materials are provided and standardized by the federal government, though instructors must have had CERT training.

Rowe said that before Johnson, the CERT program had not been implemented because of financial and time constraints. Her volunteerism and a $7,000 federal grant have helped the program get under way.

The CERT program was developed by the Los Angeles Fire Department in 1985 after the devastation of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake demonstrated a need for training. During that earthquake, untrained volunteers saved 800 people, but 100 lost their lives while attempting to save others.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) and the National Fire Academy adopted and expanded the CERT materials in 1993, making training national.

"I'm really excited about the program," Rowe said. "People really want to help neighbors. This gives them the training to be able to do that."

For more information, visit www.citizencorps.gov/cert. To enroll in the next CERT course, call the fire station in Snoqualmie at (425) 888-1551.

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