Park Ridge calls on CERT in times of need
Rainer Krautwald, right, a volunteer with the Park Ridge Community Emergency Response Team, practices bandaging with fellow CERT member Nick Schori. | Contributed photo
PARK RIDGE — After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks Phil Falson called the city Park of Ridge to let leaders know he was here to help if ever needed.
A decade later, on the anniversary of 9/11, he saw an ad for the Community Emergency Response Team.
“It was exactly what I was looking for,” Falson said.
Today he serves as a logistics officer for the Park Ridge chapter of CERT, a civic program national in scope that educates the public about emergency and disaster preparedness. Localized teams of volunteers function to assist residents and support professional first responders in situations requiring first aid, crowd control, flood-relief work and evacuations, among other actions.
Los Angeles firefighters developed the CERT concept in 1985 as a way to teach civilians how to meet their immediate needs during disaster.
The events of Sept. 11, 2011 transformed how governments approached large-scale emergencies and propelled the creation CERT programs across the U.S.
In late 2004 Park Ridge directed Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Sorensen to form a local program.
Sorensen said while first responders are equipped to address local emergencies, disasters tend to require the assistance of many, especially if surrounding towns are also affected. “Most of the time people see the fire trucks and recognize the work that the firefighters are doing,” he said. “We need CERT members to do the unseen.”
“CERT always uses the analogy that if you call 911 and no one answers, that’s a good time to have CERT out there,” added John Bennett, a leader and longtime member of the program.
“It gives the city an additional resource for personnel when everyone is out on the street and no one is left,” he said.
Whether it’s passing out water at a cooling center or ensuring the safety of pedestrians at Maine South High School during football games, CERT volunteers are deployed wherever and whenever needed.
To serve in CERT members must complete a 20-hour training course in basic disaster response skills such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and medical aid. Park Ridge currently has a corps of 75 volunteers, 50 of whom are active.
Bennett said CERT members are different than volunteers pulled from the street in that they are educated on communication and organization strategies.
“I think anybody can fill a sandbag, but where does that sandbag need to go? That’s the communication part,” he said.
As more volunteers are trained, the bigger an asset CERT becomes for Park Ridge and its neighbors.
For example, this past fall Park Ridge CERT members recently certified by the Illinois Search and Rescue Council assisted Palatine police in an active wilderness ground search.
Sorensen said such deployments allow municipalities to better utilize limited resources. Relying on trained volunteers to assist in a missing person search frees up dozens of firefighters and police for concurrent emergency work. Volunteers are often familiar with their surroundings and neighbors, knowledge that becomes invaluable when disaster strikes. “They know the needs of their community as well as, if not better than, the pros,” Sorensen said.
Park Ridge Patrol Officer Michael Luehr, the city-assigned liaison to CERT, estimates the civic group has contributed over 2,000 volunteer hours.
He said CERT provides a medium for people who wish to give back.
“The role that volunteers can play in any critical incident is beneficial to citizens and the (police) department as a whole,” Luehr said.
Bennett said a majority of CERT’s membership consists of residents already active in the community and willing to lend their neighbors a hand.
“I am personally very proud of this program,” he said. “To be able to help our fellow citizens by playing a small part goes a very long way.”
For more information about the Park Ridge Community Emergency Response Team contact Officer Luehr at (847) 692-8121 or e-mail email@example.com.