Tamarac residents training for emergencies

By Kevin Smith
Staff Writer
Posted May 16 2003

Tamarac You can never have too many first responders.

The term first responder generally is applied to police officers and firefighters, the people who arrive after 911 is dialed. But in Tamarac, the number of first responders is growing thanks to the Community Emergency Response Team program.

The CERT program, which has more than 300 participants, will add more members after the conclusion of its eight-week training class, which began on Tuesday.

"Basically, the concept here is to have people who are trained in different parts of emergency service," said Tamarac Fire Rescue's Van Schoen, the course instructor. "They're not professionals, but there are some things they can do so, when the professionals arrive, they can tell them what the professionals need to know to do their job."

The class sessions cover disaster preparedness, fire suppression, search and rescue, first aid and post-disaster organization. The federally designed training was intended for overwhelming situations when there aren't enough police officers and fire fighters, but Schoen said the training could be useful in any setting.

"I just think there's a lot of knowledge to be obtained through this. Whether I ever use it or not is something else," said Dr. Arnold Richmond, a 78-year-old optometrist, who started the class on Tuesday with his wife, Elaine. "Things happen in this day and age more than ever, and it's a question of being alert to what you can do."

The program is a popular one in Florida. There are 79 CERT programs in the Sunshine State, with California second at 64, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency Web site. A FEMA spokesman said about 200,000 people had undergone CERT training since 1994. The government hopes to train another 400,000 people by the end of 2004, he added.

Tamarac CERT members help the department with smoke detector installation and serve as "patients" during training drills, though more heroic opportunities sometimes arise.

Schoen told of a Tamarac CERT member who, upon witnessing a rollover accident, ran to the scene and worked with a man ejected from the car. The paramedics who arrived, seeing the victim's head stabilized and legs elevated to prevent shock, assumed the CERT member was a firefighter himself.

"The paramedic said, `What department are you with?', and the guy said, `Hollywood Video.' (The firefighters) were pretty much in awe. We have a lot of stories like that," Schoen said.

Kevin Smith can be reached at kssmith@sun-sentinel.com or 954-572-2009.