Community Emergency Response Teams
MIAMI (AP) - The next time disaster strikes, help doesn't
necessarily have to arrive when firefighters or police officers do.
Critical aid might just as well come from a neighbor or a
More than 1,500 Miami-Dade County residents have been trained by
professional rescue workers to respond if a hurricane hits,
terrosts attack or another catastrophe occurs.
The volunteers are trained as Community Emergency Response
Teams, groups of 6 to 11 people from a workplace, church or
neighborhood who learn to assess disaster sites, put out small
fires, give basic emergency medical care and perform searches and
Their assistance would especially be needed in a disaster, where
professional rescue crews might be so busy they might not get to a
particular site right away.
"They need to be self-sufficient because the resources may be
overwhelmed in a disaster," said Capt. Bob Palestrant, the
program's coordinator. The groups "may have to be on their own for
a matter of hours up to days, depending on the situation."
The program began in Los Angeles in 1985 to train people to help
after earthquakes. California officials wanted to avoid a tragedy
like in Mexico City, where 100 untrained volunteers died trying to
save earthquake victims.
Now the community teams are in more than 40 states, which have
tailored the program to address local threats, such as hurricanes
in Florida and tornadoes in the Midwest. The Federal Emergency
Management Agency uses the program as a model for local governments
to train their residents.
Miami-Dade's Emergency Management Office began training teams in
1997 and officials expect to have 2,000 people certified by
January. Although the teams haven't been tested by catastrophe,
some of volunteers have used their training.
Bryan Lanois pulled an 11-year-old neighbor girl from a canal
and - using the CPR training he received less than 3 weeks earlier
- revived her before the fire department arrived.
His training "made that girl very, very lucky," Lanois said.
Another Miami trainee was visiting the World Trade Center for
business last Sept. 11. After escaping, she assisted police by
ushering people away from the second tower minutes before it
collapsed, Palestrant said.
After a day of instruction in a gray trailer, volunteers put on
hard hats and garden gloves to try out their skills on the training
site for the county's Urban Search and Rescue Team - a
world-renowned group that has been sent to Turkey to find victims
buried in the 1999 earthquake rubble and assisted at the World
Trade Center and Pentagon last year.
To tame a fire blazing in an outdoor concrete oven, the
volunteers are taught to work in pairs, one in front with the fire
extinguisher and the other behind, with a hand on their partner's
shoulder. The fire extinguisher should be pointed at the base of
the fire - not the flames - and should be pointed downwind if
"I was surprised by the heat and the awkwardness of the fire
extinguisher," said Lori Pagan, a first-grade teacher at Sacred
Heart Catholic Elementary School. "I think I was afraid of it."
That's what the trainers - firefighters and Urban Search and
Rescue Team members - are trying to address.
"We want them to have the confidence to know they can do it,"
To rescue a child trapped under heavy debris - in this case a
child-sized mannequin - they are taught to use pry bars as levers
to raise more than a ton of concrete. Then they prop up the
concrete on wooden blocks and slide, not lift, the dummy onto a
The volunteers can learn how to treat snake bites, perform CPR
and prepare their houses for hurricanes. They also perform mock
search and rescues, with half of the class pretending to be victims
in the twisted metal and concrete heap used for training the pros.
The rescuers form triage teams and fill out casualty reports for
each victim to help the medical crews when they arrive.
Mary Preston, principal of Sacred Heart, said her staff wanted
the training because they worried about their proximity to the
Turkey Point Nuclear Plant. They also wanted to be prepared if a
hurricane struck: Hurricane Andrew ripped off the school's top
floor 10 years ago.
"We've been exposed to a lot of really good information,"
Preston said. "We can apply it to a tornado or terrorism, at
school or at home."
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