Someone save my life tonight: Basic CERT Training


I was introduced to Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training program originally at the mandatory safety overview for the Downtown LA high rise I was working at.  Essentially, they’ll teach you to be a trained individual to help your neighbors out in case of emergency where the first responders would not get to you right away.  If you want to do more, later on you can take more classes and join the volunteer force.

The basic 24-hour course was being offered in our building about a month from then.  Since I was one of the only two people in the office with emergency supplies under our desks other than the office manager, I thought I might as well get an official training and be useful in an emergency situation.  The office didn’t think it was a part of my job to respond to emergency on our floor.  Since I was going to have to take days off to go take the classes, I thought I’d try to find them closer to home instead of in Downtown LA.  I did found some in San Pedro, but then I kept forgetting to follow up.  After that, by the time I remembered to look it up, I’ve missed the training dates.

And of course, now that I’m unemployed exploring my future career options…ahem…I found a class through West Orange County CERT right here at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Base.  The 24 hours of class split into two Friday evenings and two full Saturdays.  Perfect.

What an experience, I tell you.

First of all, there were firemen. As the joke went, they were the best part of our CERT training. Not arguing here!

All kidding aside, I was pretty stoked to get to use the fire extinguisher for the first time in my life!  We even got to check out what all go into all those cabinets and drawers on a fire engine. (Jaws of Life! Cribbing blocks! Lots of water!) When the fireman asked if we had any questions, I was *this* close to ask if I could climb into the engine and turn on the siren.

One day, little OakMonster.  One day.


Firefighting lesson at CERT training

We also covered search and rescue techniques, how to move injured people effectively, and how to apply first aids to different types of wounds.  Dishearteningly, in a real disaster, our role could include medical triage.  The rule is simple: if you’re not breathing, off you go to the morgue.  “The greatest good for the greatest number” is the key here.  We can save 3 more people or we can try to save one near-dead person.  Remember, it’s not like we are trained medical professionals running around either.

Another lesson learned is, although we are here to help others, we have to look out for number one first.  It sounds counter intuitive and a bit selfish, but if I’m hurt or injured myself, I can’t get help anyone else and I’ve also just made myself a burden.  Oxygen mask goes on you before helping other people–exact same mentality here.

Tough decision making lies ahead for CERT volunteers.  We were told many times in times of real emergency, we may have to make some tough choices.  A crying child v.s. a collapsing building full of people, sort of moment.  Disaster psychology did touch on that a bit.  That lecture sounded heavy but it was more practical than I expected.  The Doc who came to talk to us actually was a cop who had lost his partner before, so he spoke from experiences from both sides of the couch.  He emphasized again that we need to be okay in order to take care of others.  So prepare our mind for what’s to come. Run the drill through your head. Prepare yourself for the horror we may encounter.  We can never be fully prepared, but at least we’ve thought about it and know what to do.

Terrorism preparedness lecture came right after disaster psych.  that.  While the key lesson for us citizens was to be vigilante and keeping our eyes out for something suspicious, we learned a lot more about the different kinds of groups and tactics used.  Two heavy hitters in the span of 3 hours, do you even have to ask if I need a drink and a hug afterward?  I actually watched Tangled that night too, just to cheer me up.

The class “finals” was the full on drill on our last Saturday.  I wish I could tell you that I carried an injured child out of the burning building.  But nope.  I volunteered to join the Planning (and Finance) group, intending to be the public information officer, but I was never assigned that task.  Our planning team never really did plan anything because we weren’t clear as exactly what planning entails–other than that they need people who can bean count, work on computers, and deal with administrative stuff–none of which we were really going to do at the drill. At the debriefing, we were told that in real life emergency, only experienced CERT volunteers should be doing the Planning and Finance, not us newbies.  Oh well, we tried.

All things considered, I felt very good about how I can handle the whole situation.  I made the best use of the situation and found myself doing something useful even if it’s not related to Planning & Finance.

Who knew that years of event coordinating would come in handy!  It’s like the day-of-event chaos, really, but with actual lives on the line.  (I was going to say “like the day-of-event chaos but with more blood”, but I did work with a horde of 3,000 zombies at Thrill the World 2009. LOL.)

Considering how well I did that day and how much I enjoyed the class, this past Tuesday, I went to the actual West Orange County CERT volunteer meeting.  They’ve invited newbies from the latest training in to see what the REAL volunteers do.   These are the folks with the green uniform polo who actually works side by side with first responders in real emergency.  I will need to take a few more classes and tests before I can actually move up the rank, and have to be present at more of events and drills and what not.

Believe it or not, becoming a CERT volunteer holds a real appeal to me.

First of all, one thing I’m better than some of my peers is handling the sight of blood and injuries.  Having had a blood geyser for a nose for most of my young life got me ready for everyone else’s bleeder.  Secondly, I work well with people and I’m a natural cheerleader.  And finally, I don’t have a problem stepping up to the plate and taking the rein.  Brandon and my teammate David called it being a natural leader.  I don’t know about that. It’s more because I have no concept of shame so I was never reluctant to pipe up.  Plus I’m too impatient to pussyfoot around and wait for someone to “sacrifice” him/herself to lead.  Let me just do that and call it a day, okay?

And of course, like how we were just talking about something to believe in, I believe in helping people.  Volunteering with CERT fits.

Now I just have to suck it up and take those training classes online so I can be invited back to the meetings.  Conveniently, I have nothing else to do at the moment. 🙂

And then it hits me.

Volunteering to save lives and serve my community is a far cry from teaching people to dance Thriller and joining a flash mob musical.

Holy crap.

I’m such an adult right now.

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