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Volunteer always looking for ways to help

Posted: June 3, 2014 - 11:04pm  |  Updated: June 4, 2014 - 1:20am
Mario Banez was a part of the first Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) in 2004.  JIM BLAYLOCK/STAFF
Mario Banez was a part of the first Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) in 2004.

Volunteerism comes naturally to Mario Banez.

Born in the Philippines, Banez moved to Chicago when he was 20. Soon after, he looked for ways to contribute to the community.

Making the transition from a tropical environment to the blustery winters on the shore of Lake Michigan was a shock but it didn’t stop Banez from becoming a volunteer firefighter and fire inspector.

After his job with NutraSweet transferred him to the Augusta area in 1994, he once again found ways to help improve his community.

“I was director of emergency services for the Red Cross for a while,” said Banez.

That was before he was offered a position as a lab analyst with Corvidien, a healthcare solutions company. He prefers the night shift because that gives him time to do other things after he gets off work at 8 a.m.

“I was part of the first CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) back in 2004” said Banez, “Now I’m part of the simulation team that helps train new CERT members.”

Banez is also one of the qualified drivers for the Emergency and Operations Center’s Mobile Operations Center. He drove the vehicle to Wrens a few years ago when the community lost power after a tornado downed power lines, hampering emergency communications.

“The MOC truck is self-sufficient. It has generators and communication equipment” said Banez.

Sometimes volunteering involves sacrifice.

“ You remember the ice storm?” asked Banez. “I was here (at EOC) while my family was freezing at home.”

Since he has a commercial drivers license, Banez also volunteers as a driver for Columbia County Cares food pantry.

“When I get off work every Tuesday I call Sconyers to see if they have something for Cares, and then I pick it up and deliver it,” said Banez. “Sometimes I deliver food to other food pantries in the area.”

Banez is also a support person for the county’s dive team.

“My function is to drive the boat, help the divers get off on their dive, time keeper, communications, everything,” said Banez.

EMA Deputy Director Rusty Welsh clarifies Banez’s role, “He supports the divers. There is three or four times more work topside than there is in the water.”

Banez has also set an example for his two children, Maritess, 26, and Angela, 25.

“They both took the CERT training while in high school,” said Banez

His wife, Tess, is a nurse at the medical prison.

Welsh doesn’t hesitate to heap praise on one of his top volunteers. “We love him to death. He participates in a lot of things. He’s a great asset to the county,” said Welsh.


Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)

Columbia County Emergency and Operations Office

650-B Ronald Reagan Drive

(706) 868-3303


Since the Columbia County CERT training program began in 2004, it has trained 22 groups totaling 464 citizens to become certified in how to take care of themselves, their families, and help their neighbors in the event of an emergency or disaster.

The CERT program includes training in disaster preparedness, fire suppression, disaster medical operations (such as triage, treating life threatening injuries, assessment and hygiene), light urban search and rescue, team organization, disaster psychology and a disaster simulation exercise.

When emergencies happen, CERT members can give critical support to first responders, provide immediate assistance to victims and organize spontaneous volunteers at a disaster site. CERT members are also called upon to assist other counties and states during major disasters.

The CERT training program is provided at no cost to people in Columbia County who are 18 or older. This program is funded by Homeland Security Grant funds.

Registration information can be found at http://www.columbiacountyga.gov/

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