When I was about 11 years old, I joined the Boy Scouts. In addition to the outdoor adventures, the chance to wear a uniform (because all girls like a boy in uniform, right?) and all the other benefits of scouting, I learned first-aid and other disaster preparedness.
I learned those things not just to earn more badges for my cool uniform, but also so I was ready to help myself and those around me in the event of an emergency.
That opportunity presents itself again, this time in the form of the Community Emergency Response Team offered by the New Lenox Police Department. CERT has already graduated four classes, and the fifth round starts on Thursday. The classes run for seven weeks from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Those classes include Disaster Preparedness, Fire Suppression, Medical Operations, Search and Rescue, Disaster Psychology, Terrorism and Team Organization. At the conclusion, a luncheon is held where a certificate and a fully stocked emergency backpack are awarded to each participant—but the education continues in the form of monthly meetings for those interested in on-going participation.
Becoming Skilled Volunteers
As explained by program coordinator Daniel Martin, Public Safety Division Chief with the police department, the classes train participants to not only take care of themselves and their families in the event of an emergency but also to be skilled volunteers who can be activated on a communitywide basis in the event of a large-scale emergency.
One example of this would be the blizzard several weeks ago. CERT provided assistance staffing the shelter during the recent snow storm, both at the police station and at Lincolnway West.
“We get a lot of spontaneous volunteers, with this program we can pre-train and pre-certify them,” Martin explained. “New Lenox is a great community of great neighbors that all want to help,” he continued. “Ideally, these folks will stick with, become team members and when something happens in the community, we can count on those [participants] to come out and help us.”
Mayor Tim Balderman agrees. “The reason New Lenox is such a great community is because the residents truly care. We have already seen the benefits that these good people who have dedicated their time and efforts to helping with CERT. They are an intricate part of the Public Safety Division.”
Martin offered another example of the how the training has been put to use: “We had a gentleman that rides the train downtown everyday and takes his (first-aid) backpack with him. A lady went down on the train ... and he used his skills learned in the program to render aid until the train arrived at the next platform and the victim was handed off to trained professionals.”
A More Proactive Approach
But wait, there is already an Emergency Services and Disaster Agency group here. Why do we need CERT, too?
Calling the two “complimentary,” Martin went on to explain that CERT takes a somewhat more proactive and community-involved approach. Some examples offered were community education in the form of distributing information at public events and community involvement by participating as a group in fund raisers such as St. Baldricks and charity runs. Another example included putting together food baskets for the needy and working in shelters.
And New Lenox is not entirely unique when it comes to CERT. There are hundreds nationwide with more dozens of groups in Illinois alone. Although other nearby communities have ESDA groups (Mokena, for instance), the nearest CERT groups are in Tinley Park and Plainfield.
Martin also pointed out that another advantage the volunteers bring is the variety of backgrounds.
“There's people from all walks of life there," he said. "There's such a diversity in the group that if something bad did happen in the community, they have such a diverse skill set that whatever the challenge put before them, they could overcome the challenge.”
Along the way, those volunteers form bonds, too, Martin said.
“Great friendships have been made in going through the training and attending class together," he said. "It's an added benefit to meet new people since everyone is there for the same purpose.”
For those interested in joining in, contact Martin at 815-462-6100 or firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or to register for the class. They might not have cool uniforms like the scouts – but there's still that backpack!