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November 8, 2010

Emergency responders hold drills at Calif. airport

By Anne Kallas
The Ventura County Star

VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. — The unseasonable hot spell this week broke just in time for the Community Emergency Response Teams and Ventura County firefighters' disaster drill training Saturday at Camarillo Airport.

"We appreciate you volunteers who step up and get training. This is a great chance to freshen and sharpen your skills and you don't have to do it in 90-degree weather," said Ventura County Supervisor Kathy Long, who addressed the more than 200 volunteers participating in the exercises conducted by the Ventura County Fire Department and CERT.

The daylong drills were open to people who completed all seven CERT training modules and received a CERT certificate. Also participating were fire personnel from area departments, as well as members of Ventura County ACS/ARES (Auxiliary Communications Service and Amateur Radio Emergency Service).

The exercises included a variety of scenarios and practices designed to train volunteers to provide essential services if disaster strikes. "This is about neighbors setting up relationships and networks," said Cynthia Elliott of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office of Emergency Services.

Bill Nash, spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department, said CERT volunteers will be crucial in an emergency. "After a disaster, all services will be overwhelmed. These people will check their own homes, then grab their gear and help their neighbors, taking the load off of what will be overwhelmed emergency service providers," he said.

Among the training exercises were demonstrations of the proper use of fire extinguishers, communications training and traffic control. Volunteers also were taught how to fill and place sandbags and cribbing - the use of materials, such as lumber or steel, to move heavy objects off victims buried under fallen buildings or walls.

The "main scenario" was a three-hour search-and-rescue, triage and treatment for which volunteers were covered in fake blood and portrayed victims of a disaster.

"Who said Halloween is over? It's not over around here," said Glenn Garcia, a Ventura County Fire Department chief and CERT coordinator, as a test dummy was being dragged into position.

During the fire extinguisher training, Angela Shoop of Moorpark, acting as incident commander for her group, made sure each volunteer was properly equipped while putting out a flame in an old van.

Nash explained that they use a special device that creates a controlled flame that the volunteers put out in groups of two. The lead person is responsible for focusing only on extinguishing the fire at the source, while the second team member is responsible for observing and reacting to everything else that is occurring. Nash said firefighters use the same method - one person handling the hose and focusing only on extinguishing the fire, while the other navigates the surroundings.

The biggest emphasis of the day, according to Santa Paula Fire Department Capt. Steve Lazenby, was on personal safety. "Who's the most important person here?" he asked.

"Me," the volunteers replied.

"Safety first. Stay part of the solution. Do not become part of the problem. Take care of yourself," said Lazenby, who is also a CERT coordinator.

Bob Roper, chief of the Ventura County Fire Department, held up a wizened apple he said was from an emergency pack from last year's drills and reminded the volunteers of the importance of replenishing earthquake supplies regularly.

He said the exercises may have outgrown the county's facility at the Camarillo Airport. "Next year we will have to look into holding it (the drills) at another training center because of all of you," he said.

Copyright 2010 Ventura County Star

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