John Harlan Sr. said building his group's construction paper tower was like a game of Jenga.
Ravinder Gujral (from left), Sheila Homschek and Ed Campbell build a tower out of construction paper at a team-building exercise during Comunity Emergency Response Training.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"I jinxed it," Harlan joked as the tower fell to the ground during Columbia County's first Community Emergency Response Training class Tuesday night.
Constructing a 5-foot-tall tower in groups trained the first CERT class members to work in groups and allowed them to get to know each other.
For the 33 students ranging in age from 15 to past 70, Tuesday's class was the first of eight that will train them to assist emergency responders during emergency or disaster situations in the county.
"There is a wide range of diversity in the group, which is great," said Pam Tucker, the county's Emergency Management Agency director. "We need people for all kinds of things."
A team of trained first responders will lead the first of four classes this year in emergency preparedness, basic fire safety and suppression, basic emergency medical operations, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster psychology.
"With all the knowledge and skills that they are going to learn in this training, they are going to walk in the door and help us," Tucker said. "Nothing is worse than to have a disaster and have 100 people show and say, 'Gosh, I want to help. What can I do?' You don't know their abilities. They haven't had training. Pretty much you can't use them.
"This CERT training is giving us people that are part of a team now."
The class drew a diverse crowd from a high-school freshman and a financial adviser to retired military personnel and Savannah River Site engineers.
The program, sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is one of 10 in the state and is part of the national volunteerism effort initiated by President Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks. The effort is expected to train more than 400,000 volunteers during the next two years.
"We are doing our little part with our little goal to have over 100 at the end of this year," Tucker said.
With a $58,000 Georgia Emergency Management Agency grant that has been applied for, Tucker hopes to provide each CERT member with a kit, including eye protection, safety vests, hardhat and other essential disaster materials.
The course is free. Only those 18 or older can register, except teens accompanied by a parent. Harlan entered the training with his son, John Jr., a 15-year-old Greenbrier High School freshman.
"I wanted to do it mainly for (my son)" Harlan said. "Participating with him will be a lot of fun."
One class per quarter is scheduled with the next beginning April 13. Classes reached the 25-member maximum quickly after an October orientation meeting, though a few spaces are still available for the last two classes this year. A roster already is beginning for 2005 classes.
Tucker is not surprised by the enthusiastic turnout of the community.
"People always want to help when there are emergencies and disasters," she said. "Sometimes they are not sure where their niche is. This is very formal training that will give them great skills ... With all the other grants and equipment we've got coming in, this is just another fantastic way we are going to be able to help people and save lives if we do have a major incident."
For more information or to register for the next available class opening, call 868-3303 or e-mail email@example.com.
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