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CERT 4: Keeping on the same page and putting out fires

Scott Graham and Brianne Tompkins demonstrate the "buddy system" while putting out a fire. (West Life photo by Sue Botos)

Westshore

By Sue Botos

What do you think of when you hear EMT? Most of us probably picture the folks who perform emergency medical procedures. But there are at least 10 other uses for this abbreviation, including Email Money Transfer and the El Monte, Calif., airport.

How about 4X4? Depending on the situation, it could be a truck, a lumber measurement or a gauze bandage.

And, of course, we know SOB refers to “Souls on Board.”

These are just some of the examples given by CERT coordinator Tricia Granfors as she led us through the alphabet soup of acronyms that highlighted CERT organization, the fourth installment of our basic training. Above all, we learned about the need for standardization of terms and for an understood Incident Command System (ICS) when it comes to dealing with disaster.

“This is an anchor, a fixed point of reference,” she said, comparing the system to flying with and without instruments. “You do the best you can with the skills you have. The more prepared you are the better,” she told us, adding that during most emergencies, bystanders and the victims themselves provide the first response.

We made our way through the ICS structure, which had to be compliant with NIMS, the National Incident Management System adopted by the federal government in the wake of 9/11. This structural framework is used nationwide by both governmental and nongovernmental agencies, and has to be followed in order for these agencies to receive grant funds.

Granfors stressed that CERT teams do not “self-activate.” After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, many first responders, she said, headed to New York City on their own. “This just caused more chaos. They had good intentions and a good heart, but added to the confusion even though they were trained,” she stated.

This support system, said Granfors, is a bit like an iceberg. “You see the responders, but there is a lot going on underneath,” she noted.

What goes on underneath, Granfors explained, can be divided into planning (the “thinkers”), logistics (the “getters”) and finance/administration (the “payers”), all supporting operations (the “doers”).

I figured logistics would be my strength, since I spend many of my working hours ferreting out information. I also noticed that the communications unit was under this section. However, as part of the CERT team, this would mean being on the other end of the information flow.

After warming up on CERT organization, we moved on to fire safety, headed up by Rocky River fire Chief Chris Flynn.

“Has anyone never used a fire extinguisher before?” Flynn asked us. A few hands, including my own, went up. (Given my kitchen skills, at times, that’s an accomplishment). “We’re going to put a stop to that,” he quipped.

We all received a chemistry lesson as part of this unit, as Flynn explained the fire triangle of heat, fuel and oxygen, which create a blaze. Removal of one douses the flames. “If you remove the chief, the fire will also go out,” said Flynn.

It’s extremely important to identify the type of fuel feeding the fire before deciding the correct method of putting it out, according to Flynn, who said that fires can range from the ordinary to combustible metals.

After telling the story of how the contact between some Drano and steel wool sparked a house fire, Flynn told us to read labels and keep LIES in mind: Limit, Isolate, Eliminate and Separate.

When it comes to hazardous materials, Flynn recommended two pieces of equipment: track shoes and binoculars, meaning that if you see it, get away from it.

When talking about household fire hazards, including flammable liquids, natural gas and electrical, Flynn warned to especially avoid the “electrical octopus,” that tangle of cords that lives behind many desks and appliances.

As with all other CERT activities, Flynn said that the theme in firefighting is “My Buddy and Me.” We put that to the test when Flynn made good on his promise to have us all experience using a fire extinguisher, which, I discovered, is filled with a baking-soda-like product and not something toxic.

In groups of four we formed a “train,” keeping one hand on the person ahead of us and the other on our fire extinguisher as we doused a blaze set in a wheelbarrow behind the Westlake Service Department. “Keep communicating,” urged Flynn as we approached the fire (I got it on the first shot) and backed away (complete with back-up beeps provided by our classmates).

Next week we will put it all together during the final drill.

 

 

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