Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Hundreds of Del Norters are being trained on how to rescue their neighbors during a disaster coming to a fault line near you.

Fifty-five Del Norters recently completed training in the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program, a federally organized designation for ordinary folks willing to act as first responders until the real first responders arrive on a disaster-rocked scene.

The final test that new CERT members had to complete two weeks ago before finishing their training included a mock post-earthquake scenario: numerous victims were inside the heavily damaged Crescent Fire Protection District building, some with only minor injuries, some dead, and some barely alive and buried in debris.

"I don't know what's going on, but it was like a bomb," groaned Bob Coates, really hamming it up for his part, as he lay out on a folding table serving as a medical stretcher in front of the building. "It only lasted about a minute; I don't know how I got buried in that debris."

Before the post-earthquake rescue exercise, Coates and other "victims" were given small cards describing the degree of their injuries, cueing them how to behave for the scene.

The second group, playing the CERT first responders, staged outside the front entrance of building, quickly reviewing what was expected of each member of the team. Quick and efficient triage is the primary goal for the scenario: Find the victims with life-threatening injuries in need of immediate medical attention and treat them where they lie, if appropriate, or transport them to the front of the building, which served as an on-site medical treatment area.

The responders were evaluated by a third group of observers, who made notes on how well the team performed.

The CERT group combed through the dark conference room (power outages would be likely) of the fire building with flashlights while the victims moaned or called for help, the entire scene feeling quite apocalyptic.

To expedite the triage, CERT members used colored tape for each victim: red indicated life-threatening injuries in need of immediate care, green meant the victim has minor injuries, yellow showed unconscious or in need of urgent care, and black marked dead.

The CERT team was treating the red-tape victims in the worst shape outside the front of the building when Dana Reno, captain of the Crescent City Fire Department, arrived to the building with lights flashing.

Autumn Brodie, of Crescent City, playing the CERT commander or leader of the group, debriefed Reno on the amount of victims and their conditions, and the exercise was more less complete, with official first responders like Reno and company figuratively saying: "Good job.We'll take it from here."

Reno commended the work of Cindy Henderson, Del Norte Emergency Services Manager, and Deb Wakefield, both leaders of the CERT training program in the county.

"Once they get this CERT training done they are going to be an invaluable resource when, and not if, a disaster happens," Reno said.

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.

Reno valued the hands-on exercise that provides practice for the CERT members and feels that the training program creates a "sense of community pride."

More CERT training programs are planned for the future. Contact Cindy Henderson, (707) 464-7213, for more information.

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