Local CERT chapter drills for rescue operations

Seniors get training in fire, quake, wind, and flood emergencies

Photo by Gena Estrin
Country Lake CERT team meets for an intensive disaster drill under the direction of Incident Commander Mike Olin (kneeling). Photographer Gena Estrin is at right. Vice president Ron Ernst is at far left in front row. Secretary Annette Cochran is between Estrin and Olin.

■ By Dennis Fletcher & Gena Estrin / Contributed

Seniors living at the Country Lake Manufactured Home Community in San Jacinto recently received training in disaster preparedness when the park hosted the local CERT emergency team, which put on a full dress rehearsal.
Members of CERT, which stands for Community Emergency Response Team, are trained by the Riverside County Emergency Management Department under FEMA to act as a resource team in the event of an emergency — earthquake, fire, wind storm, or flood. Members of CERT learn a realistic approach to emergency and disaster situations where people will initially be on their own, and their actions can make a significant difference to the immediate community around them.

Photo by Gena Estrin
Preparing to load dummy/simulated victim onto the backboard following extraction using cribbing.

The CERT team at Country Lake was founded by resident Mike Olin back in January 2008. “The CERT team is for residents of CLMHC senior park and meets monthly in the park’s large clubhouse,” says Olin. Today, it operates under the direction of Olin, who is president, and supported by Ron Ernst, vice president, and Annette Cochran, secretary. Beside their monthly meetings that cover various topics, the group of 25 members meets two to four times a year to go through disaster drills and sharpen their rescue techniques.

Equipment list
The equipment built by Olin’s CERT team over the years includes a mobile command post, search and rescue trailer and their Air-Kwik fire wagon. All are critical for quickly attacking fires or other emergencies in the senior park.
Since a manufactured home can go up in flames in a matter of minutes, having this equipment stationed at the park is a great advantage over waiting for a fire engine to arrive. Mike LaVino of the CERT team and a retired Riverside County fire fighter told me after our exercise, “The phosgene gas emitted from burning materials in RVs, mobile homes and manufactured homes is very deadly. Anyone inside such a burning structure should only attempt to put out a small fire with a fire extinguisher. If it’s growing on you, get out!”

Photo by Gena Estrin
Mike LaVino assists Jerry Thomas who practices his fire extinguisher skills.

After a short address by Incident Commander Mike Olin, the disaster drill commenced with an exercise to practice extracting a person or animal from under a heavy object, called “cribbing and extraction.” A new mannequin recently bought by the CERT team to practice victim extraction was named Disaster Dummy or DD at the team’s June meeting. Cribbing is an ingenious way that a team of six is able to lift an object weighing thousands of pounds off of a victim using wooden blocks and a pry bar.

Backboard training
Under a warming morning sun and the shade of giant cottonwood trees on the park’s Horseshoe Field, the team went on to “backboard training,” where members practiced rolling an injured victim of a disaster onto a backboard (or any improvised carrying board) as well as onto a carrying cloth (or any blanket strong enough to hold the victim in an emergency).

Photos by Gena Estrin
Annette Cochran, Country Lake CERT team secretary, practices aiming a fire hose and using the nozzle to adjust the stream to a spray. Her instructor is Jerry Thomas.

Fire suppression training then involved team members practicing with fire extinguishers and using an actual working fire hose to learn about different settings on the hose nozzle to change the strength and configuration (fine, mist etc.) of the water stream.
The final exercise of the day may be familiar to many who watched the rescue of victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans unfold on television starting on Aug. 25, 2005. With winds of 100 – 140 mph, this 400-mile wide Category 3 rated hurricane devastated a swath of the area surrounding New Orleans and drove the sea 6-12 miles inland. As we watched the rescue teams go through homes and businesses searching for victims, we could see large white signs with an X on them taped to the outside of structures that have been cleared. Do you recall seeing them? Those were FEMA Structure Marking Signs that summarize the results of a search team’s finding.

A thorough search
This final exercise involved the group dividing up into teams of four or five to enter a simulated damaged home and conduct a thorough search looking for victims and hazards and resources. Upon completion of their search of the simulated disaster area, the teams prepared the FEMA Structure Marking Sign and taped it to the front of the home as their crowning accomplishment.
In an actual disaster, members of the Country Lake CERT team will report to the Horseshoe Park where the Incident Commander, Mike Olin, will assign them various roles, responsibilities and immediate tasks to mitigate and assist victims throughout the community. With an array of impressive equipment to help them, the CERT team at Country Lake stands ready to provide meaningful rescue services to their fortunate neighbors.

Photo by Gena Estrin
Cribbing is used to extract victims from under heavy objects. CERT team is adding blocks to raise an object that can trap a victim.

They are ready whether it be for a fire at a park residents’ homes or from the nearby hillside, or an earthquake stronger than the 3.4 quake on the San Jacinto Fault experienced last May, or a windstorm like the 105 mph winds that hit San Jacinto in November 2007, or when San Jacinto residents and city employees spent the morning of Dec. 4, 2014 digging cars out of mud and cleaning up after flash flooding crossed Soboba Road from the mountains, caused by a powerful wave of storms that moved through the town unexpectedly overnight.

Too long getting ready
One of Mile Olin’s mottos has always been, “Don’t get caught, preparing to prepare!” With regular drills by the growing CERT team at Country Lake under Olin’s able leadership, the community next to the dry San Jacinto River bed, at the bottom of the San Jacinto Mountains, and sitting atop the San Jacinto Fault Line that runs along the southern base of the San Jacinto Mountains, is prepared for whatever is coming next.
To be formally certified, a local citizen must compete 20 hours of no-cost classroom training. Only those who successfully complete the hands-on exercises in fire suppression, search and rescue, and cribbing extraction, and emergency medical training, receive the CERT certificate and a free CERT emergency backpack with rescue equipment.
Senior parks in the San Jacinto Valley with their own CERT teams at the present time include: Four Seasons (contact Bud Piraino) and Sierra Dawn (contact Bob Farver).

Photo by Gena Estrin
Mike Olin, president and Incident Commander for Country Lake CERT team points out features of the Air-Kwik fire wagon’s 100-gallon tank with hoses and Floto-pump to draft water from a lake or a pool for fire fighting.

More information
For more information on becoming a CERT volunteer/first responder, contact Riverside County Emergency Management Department on the Internet at: www.rivcocert.org or call (951) 955-4700.
To learn more about CERT, see: www.ready.gov/community-emergency-response-team. For a government training film, see: www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/videos/109481. Government site for teens interested in CERT: https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1844-25045-3408/teen_cert_brochure.pdf.
Other disaster response teams in the San Jacinto Valley include the Emergency Disaster Services arm of the Salvation Army at Acacia and Palm in Hemet (call Lt. James Fleming at 714-499-3943 or visit www.disaster.salvationarmyusa.org).
The American Red Cross has its own Disaster Assistance Team in Riverside Country run by Disaster Program Manager for Operations Ernie Calderon. To volunteer or learn more about their services, contact him at (951) 235-0604 or see: www.redcross.org/volunteer. The nearest Red Cross office is located at 6235 Rivercrest Dr., Riverside.


Dennis Fletcher, Valley Chronicle community affairs coordinator, Gena Estrin, photographer, are members of the CERT team at Country Lake Manufactured Home Community in San Jacinto.

Photo by Dennis Fletcher
Fire trailer with hoses.
Photo by Gena Estrin
Ron Ernst, VP of Country Lake CERT team with Air-Kwik Fire Wagon equipped with 1,400 feet of firehose that can be connected to fire hydrants or the Air-Kwik fire fighting system propelled by two 4,500 psi compressed air canisters.
Photo by Dennis Fletcher
Fire hose lecture with Mike DeVito.
Photo by Mike Olin
Mobile command post.

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