It's Volunteer Appreciation Week! (April 10 -- 16). Have you told the volunteers working on your behalf how much you appreciate them? Maybe you're thinking, "I don't have any volunteers working for me." But if you live on the Kenai Peninsula, you do -- whether you've seen them or not. They're a bit like leprechauns, doing much of their work discreetly, and even dress in green. But unlike those little Irish characters, they come in all sizes and they're not out for mischief; their goal is to serve their community. They're Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers, and they train frequently so that they will be prepared to help their fellow citizens in the event of an emergency or area disaster. They also help with events like community Safety Days, immunization clinics and health fairs.
In a large-scale emergency, the need for assistance and immediate action is almost certain to be greater than professional rescuers' ability to respond. The CERT program was initiated by the Los Angeles Fire Department in 1985 as a way to help local communities be more self-sufficient in the early stages of a disaster. In the years since, this program has expanded across the country, and the Kenai Peninsula has now had 235 people complete CERT training. There are CERT volunteers in Seward, Homer, Anchor Point, Kenai, Soldotna, Funny River, Nikiski and points in between, ready to don their green helmets and CERT vests, grab their response kits and help their neighbors when the need arises.
CERT volunteers are trained to be first on scene. They sweep neighborhoods, conducting rapid damage estimates, shutting off utilities as needed, extinguishing small fires, doing light search and rescue, triaging victims and providing first aid. Many know how to direct traffic and are ready to help set up and manage emergency shelters. They are also trained to participate in the Incident Command System, which allows them to coordinate with professional emergency responders as such as fire/EMS and law enforcement. They are taught to know their neighborhoods and their neighbors: who is disabled and possibly in need of extra help? If there is a danger of ruptured gas lines, where are the utility shut-offs located? Who in the neighborhood has special skills, like medical training or heavy equipment operation, which may be needed in an emergency?
CERT volunteers come from all walks of life, range in age from youth to seniors and have all levels of abilities. They are united by their desire to make their communities a safer place to live. CERT trainings take place every year in various locations throughout the Kenai Peninsula. The training is free and provides skills and knowledge that everybody should have in order to protect themselves and loved ones in an emergency. Although most people who finish the training choose to become CERT volunteers, there is no obligation to do so. If you are interested in learning more about CERT, visit the Kenai Peninsula Borough's Citizen Corps website at www.kpvolunteers.org, or contact Glenda Landua at 262-4910.
Jan Yaeger works with the CERT program.
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