Towns Collaborate On New Community Emergency Response Team

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Police, Fire And Harbormaster News

David Miller of South Chatham, the leader of the first Lower Cape CERT group, shows off the contents of the backpacks that will be provided to volunteers. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

When natural disasters or other emergencies happen, town officials are always in need of trained workers to help with a variety of tasks, from answering phones and helping with paperwork to directing traffic and staffing shelters. To that end, the towns of Brewster, Orleans, Chatham and Harwich are creating a new regional Community Emergency Response Team and will be offering the first training session shortly.

The team is being led by David Miller of South Chatham, who retired as a captain from the East Greenwich, R.I., fire department in 2008. After that, Miller taught new EMTs and paramedics at a school in Connecticut. The need for trained volunteers was apparent during the recent tornadoes, where some first responders had to be diverted for clerical work and more mundane tasks. Using trained volunteers for these jobs represents a more efficient use of human resources, “and would free up a police officer or a firefighter,” Miller said.

Miller met with Chatham Emergency Management Director John Kondratowicz last winter, and then met jointly with Harwich officials to float the idea of a regional Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT. “That’s how we got this whole process started,” he said. It was decided early on that it would take all four towns to provide sufficient volunteers for the team.

The new team has already received the blessing of the Brewster selectmen, and Miller plans to make presentations in the other three towns shortly. The inaugural training session is scheduled to begin Oct. 8 and classes will be held Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m. through Oct. 29 at the Chatham Fire Department. Volunteers from all backgrounds, and with all types of abilities, are welcome.

“There is a job for everybody,” Miller said. Volunteers can be any age over 18, and as young as 16 with special permission. New CERT members will be offered activities that match their abilities, and will receive comprehensive training and a backpack filled with equipment, courtesy of a state grant program. “You always work in pairs,” he said.

CERT members will learn first aid and CPR, but will also be trained in how to use a fire extinguisher and how to shut off the utilities to a house in case of emergency. A key part of the curriculum involves personal disaster preparedness, Miller said.

“It’s basically self-preservation at your home and in your neighborhood,” he said. “A big part of the training is supporting yourself at home, before you go out and help others.”

The new regional CERT won’t just be active during disasters, Miller said. The team can play a useful role in events that draw large crowds, like First Night, the Fourth of July parades, the Cranberry Festival or the Brew Run. Participants will be asked to take part in at least two or three events each year, as well as a few meetings. The program is designed to be fun and satisfying, so organizers will have a healthy pool of engaged volunteers when they are needed.

Towns are in the process of preparing an application process for the team and will begin formally recruiting volunteers shortly. Ryan Darmon at Chatham’s government cable TV channel, Channel 18, is producing a promotional video that will run in all four towns, and additional information will be published in area media outlets when applications are being accepted.

Miller said the four member towns have provided “wonderful, wonderful support” in developing the program. While it’s a bit challenging working with police and fire departments from four towns, as well as the Dennis-Yarmouth CERT and the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office, it’s clear that the idea has strong support across town lines.

“They’re all on the same page,” he said.