Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Before a teenage group of emergency responders was unleashed across the campus of College of the Redwoods-Del Norte recently, they were told two things: There has just been a catastrophic earthquake and three people are still missing on this campus.

The high-schoolers, trained as Community Emergency Response Teams (federally organized first responder certification), broke off into smaller groups to search for the missing persons, which in this practice emergency scenario were mannequins hidden under bushes and decks across CR's campus by the students' teacher, Melody Pope.

Pope, who teaches health career-related classes at Del Norte High School, reminded her students to follow the protocol they've learned by searching in groups of two.

Soon enough a group of students, armed with CERT backpacks filled with emergency supplies, found a body (mannequin), evaluated its condition and placed colored tape on it to indicate the health status: red indicating life-threatening injuries in need of immediate care, green meaning the victim has minor injuries ("walking wounded," Pope says), yellow meaning unconscious or in need of urgent care, and black meaning dead.

"We saved a life today," said 18-year-old senior Cole Ives with a knowing smirk as he held the body in his arms.

Jokes aside, the CERT program is a serious community asset.

"We have a couple of young men that will be joining the Search and Rescue team" after they graduate from Del Norte High School this spring, Pope said. "How nice is it for them to walk right out of high school and help the community by joining that sort of team?"

CERT classes were first developed and implemented by the Los Angeles Fire Department in the wake of the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake; the idea was picked up by FEMA and classes were made available nationally in 1993.

Training students via CERT classes is part of Del Norte High School's 2-year-old HOSA program, Health Occupations Students of America, a student organization for youths considering futures in the medical field. Del Norte High students who express an interest in working in the medical field can take HOSA classes and even earn some college credit via a partnership with College of the Redwoods. The CERT classes were added to the high school's HOSA program this year.

"We just added CERT because it seemed like a perfect fit. It seemed almost a shame to not add it to our health career classes," Pope said.

In a tsunami-prone city that could potentially face a catastrophic earthquake at any time, more emergency responders are always welcome.

In March, a Del Norte High HOSA class competed in the HOSA State Leadership Conference in Sacramento where more than 250 California schools were represented. Del Norte HOSA students were able to receive training while there, and they competed in a variety of activities, including CERT emergency scenarios similar to the recent simulation conducted at CR.

Seventeen-year-old junior Hailey Hulse took second place in the Medical Photography competition by telling a story with photos of Crescent City medical care, including a doctor's visit and Cal-Ore Flight. It was the first time a Del Norte HOSA student placed in the competition.

"I pretty much would've been satisfied with top 10.It was my first year and I didn't know what I was doing," Hulse said."I was very overwhelmed. When I got off the stage and my teacher came over and gave me a big hug, I was very happy."

Hulse's silver medal sends her and the entire Del Norte HOSA class to Nashville in June for the HOSA national leadership conference. All of her HOSA classmates get to come along to cheer her on and attend training and workshops as they support Hulse competing on a national platform.

The students' CERT training came in handy in a real-life, person-not-mannequin scenario while they were in Sacramento for the state competition. A group of Del Norte students witnessed a woman flip over her bicycle's handlebars after hitting a train rail, face-planting into the pavement.

The students ran to a nearby restaurant to get gloves and towels, then started administering first aid.

When their teacher arrived, the students ribbed her for missing the scene.

"'Where are you Ms. Pope?We're over here administering first-aid!'" Pope remembers the students telling her.

"It was great to see some of the training that they had put to use so easily," Pope said."They were right on it. They were assessing whether it was in need of immediate treatment. It was really rewarding to see them use some of the skills we had taught in the CERT class."

The classes are also available to adults in the Del Norte community. Dozens of Del Norters will receive their CERT certification in a Crescent City class Thursday, and more classes are scheduled for the future.

Contact Cindy Henderson, Del Norte County's Emergency Service Manager, for more information.

"It's great for the community and it's great for kids," Pope said.

Reach Adam Spencer at