What is CERT?

By Gary Viall

What is CERT?

CERT means Community Emergency Response Team.

As a result of terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, many city and county governments participate in the nationwide CERT program, with the help of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The Community Emergency Response Team is a system of training citizens to respond to large scale emergencies within their own neighborhood when the resources of the local (city and county) fire and rescue system have been overwhelmed. These citizens are trained in the absence of a fire department response to mobilize and organize a rescue team for their community.

The local fire and rescue department offers CERT training courses in the spring and fall.  The training is consisted of eight weekly training evening classes and one final exercise.  The training covers disaster management, triage (sorting and allocation of treatment to the disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors), medical operations, hazard awareness, lifting and cribbing and scenarios.  The final exercise is an all day two-part exercise on a Saturday.  The first part includes on how to use the chemical and water extinguishers on little fires.  The second part involves all CERT rescuers and victim volunteers at the fake disaster scene.  Each victim volunteer is expected to play a role as realistically as possible and receives “make-up” to show "wounds" and has fake blood placed on his/her clothes. Some of them may also be called upon to assist the CERT rescuers in performing their duties.

Tom Dowling, Jill Moebus, Sheri Shimada, and Gary Viall recently completed the course, bringing the number of deaf individuals certified by the Fairfax County to seven.  The other three are Barbara Eger of Vienna, and Steve & Lynda Koopman of Herndon.  On December 2, 2006, they participated in the final exercise at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Academy designated tornado disaster area where there were about 100 CERT rescuers and 160 “victims” who did their assigned roles.  Two fire engines with flashing red lights, one helicopter that flew around and landed to pick up one victim, one long bus for “victims,” and one ambulance were at the scene, making it more like in real life.

The other two deaf certified CERT rescuers in Virginia are Alice Frick of Staunton and Debbie Titus of Manassas.

If you are interested in the CERT training, you need to check with your city or county fire and rescue department.  Sign language interpreters are provided, and you can also request CART (captioning) or an assistive listening system.  It is helpful to the county if several or more individuals requiring interpreters or CART take the training at the same time.



One of two interpreters in CERT classes.
Gary Viall, Tom Dowling, Jill Moebus, and Sheri Shimada smile for the camera.
Their CERT outfits consist of green helmets, reflective vests, eye protectors, knee pads and backpacks.

With breathing masks on.
CERT Lead Trainer Derek Rowan stands on a fire engine as he talks to trainees.
Whenever a major disaster like an earthquake or tsunami strikes oversea,
Rowan goes there with special CERT  teams.

Trainees assemble at the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Academy prepared to label and rescue “victims.”
Seen in the background are three buildings used to train firefighters and rescuers.

CERT trainees on a practice rescue mission.  A "victim" lies on a makeshift stretcher at left.
A rescue dog at right is involved in the practice.
Anything is used to transport victims, including a lawn chair, packets, a school bus, and an ambulance.
Here the rescuers are carrying "victims" to a designated safe area where the bus will transport them to a hospital.
Fairfax County Fire Chief Michael P. Heuhard speaks at the CERT graduation ceremony.
Sitting at right are CERT Lead Trainer Derek Rowan and CERT Coordinator Robert Mizer.

There was a cake for CERT graduates.
And a certificate of completion of the training.
Standing from left: Jill Moebus, Sheri Shimada, and Gary Viall.
Sitting: Tom Dowling

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