By Donna Thornton/News Editor
After three weeks of training, the Gadsden-Etowah Emergency Management Agency put members of its most recent Community Emergency Response Team class through their paces with an exercise designed to let them use the techniques they’ve learned.
Gadsden-Etowah Director Denise Cooey said the EMA staff prepared a tornado scenario for class members, setting up rooms and hallways in the EMA offices to mimic the effects of a tornado. Rooms were dark as though electricity was out, furniture and debris were scattered and people – and in some cases mannequins – posed as storm victims among the debris.
Different rooms were labeled with a street address, and a brief description of what the conditions were at the address. Teams were given an address to find and perform the kind of search and rescue they’d been trained for.
The descriptions of conditions at an address were important: One of the things CERT members instructed about is judging whether it is safe for them to enter a structure. Flames and an odor of gas at one address meant citizen responders should not try to enter the residence.
At another staged residence responders found overturned furniture and, when they called out to ask if anyone was there, an injured person behind a desk. They assisted her, and asked if other people were there, which led them to another victim, trapped under a beam and other debris that they had to work together to remove. While waiting with the initial victim, another searcher found an unconscious victim who had been completely covered by debris.
Cooey said the CERT team members were trained for light search and rescue, such as they tasks they performed in the drill, along with triage and first aid.
In addition to those skills, Cooey said, team members learned light fire suppression and cribbing – using tools and materials to leverage debris off victims in a way that’s safe for the victim and those helping.
Those drills had to be practiced outside, Cooey said, for obvious reasons. Teams practiced using a fire extinguisher to put out a small blaze, and worked to carefully free a child mannequin buried under pallets in the parking lot behind Gadsden City Hall.
Kathy Jackson of Hokes Bluff was one of those who trained for three weeks to become a member of the Community Emergency Response Team. She said seeing the aftermath of the April 2010 tornadoes sparked her interest in the classes.
“I live in an area where it’s all my family,” Jackson said. “I feel better now, that if something happened I’d be about to help.
Jackson said the EMA staff did a good job offering instruction and training in the classes. She said she though she would be less afraid, if an emergency occurred, because of the instructions she’s had in how to respond.