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Church’s emergency team is first to be ready in Md.


PORT DEPOSIT, Md. (BP)–On a sunny February day, about six vehicles headed to the old vacant Bainbridge Naval Facility in Port Deposit, Md., where dilapidated buildings sit among the deserted grounds, their windows broken and in some areas their facade crumbling.

At a facility once used as a men’s barracks, 20 or more people climbed from their cars and began putting on facemasks, goggles, gloves, boots, neon vests and hard hats with lights. Some of them headed into the building, while others stood outside spray-painting cardboard and taking out notepads. Before long, victims were being drug or helped out of the building. Some of the workers had designated areas for the mildly and severely injured and a spot to put the bodies of the dead. Triage personnel quickly assessed the injured and put tape on them as to the priority of their injuries.

Was it a natural disaster? Were these Special Forces responding to a terrorist attack? No, they were church members from Pleasant View Baptist Church in Port Deposit. The church now has the first and only CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) team in the state of Maryland and is one of less than 10 active groups in the Mid-Atlantic.

The CERT program was developed in 1985 by the Los Angeles City Fire Department to meet disaster relief needs in the event of an earthquake. During a major disaster, rescue workers are overwhelmed and communities want to be able to help themselves, their neighbors and their communities. L.A. fire officials knew, however, that some people who wanted to help were dying in their attempts to rescue others. With proper training, risk could be lessened, and effectiveness increased — thus CERT was born.

CERT groups provide immediate assistance to victims, organize volunteers and collect disaster information to help professional responders. They conduct light search and rescue and determine priorities for emergency personnel who arrive later.

As CERT began to be utilized nationwide, it was adapted to each geographical location to train workers for the disasters most relevant to them. Now a part of the training covers a response to terrorism.


This is a big deal for Pleasant View, and for Port Deposit. President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union address, called for tripling the number of CERT trained volunteers in the United States in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. But Pleasant View was already doing the training before the president asked, dating back to November 2001.

Pleasant View member Jill Lee started the ball rolling. She and her husband have had an interest in disaster relief for some time, but the Sept. 11 attacks prompted her to action. She began looking for the right training, and another church member, Eric VanDyke, suggested the CERT training.

Lee recruited church members and called to make the arrangements.

“If the churches don’t do it, who will?” Lee said. “It’s long overdue that churches stand up and do what we’re called to do.”

Brooklyn Park resident Jim Jackson provided the training for Pleasant View. Jackson is a district chief of the United States Search & Rescue task force who volunteers his time to train CERT teams in the Mid-Atlantic.

Twenty-seven showed up for the training — 10 women and 17 men, including carpenters, electricians, former military personnel and home-schooling moms. They ranged in ages from about 18 to 60. Jackson led the team through the seven-part course over two eight-hour concentrated Saturdays. They learned disaster preparedness, fire suppression, basic triage assessment, search and rescue techniques, disaster relief psychology and team organization.

For simulation training, Jackson lit fires in a mortar-mixing pan while each team member used a fire extinguisher to put them out. Then they moved a dumpster using cribbing. Cribbing, Lee explained, is using stacked material to provide leverage for safely removing a heavy object from a victim.

Finally, they headed for the old building for the search and rescue. Jackson picked the “victims” and told them what ailment they had, or if they were dead. Workers searched through the old building, sometimes in pitch black, to find the victims and properly bring them out. Jackson taught them to spray paint the proper symbols on a large piece of cardboard and to post it outside the door to alert emergency workers that the team is inside and what the status of victims is.

“I loved my training,” CERT team member Barbara Kelly said. Kelly was a little intimidated at the thought of some of the physical training involved, but found it wasn’t as difficult as she thought.

“I thought, if I can get through that part of the training, then I can focus on the areas where my gifts are — medical triage,” Kelly said.

In the evening, the team received certificates at a graduation ceremony attended by church members and local government officials. They also received an official proclamation presented by state delegate David Rudolph for exemplary commitment to Cecil County by sponsoring the first class from the state.

Now that the team is trained, they’re on call. Lee said she had already received a call from Jackson about a tugboat accident nearby. They were not needed in the incident, but it was the team’s first call and first opportunity to offer their services.

Jackson will continue to train the team in further studies, including first aid and an advanced class of responding to terrorist attacks. He’ll also do follow-up simulations with them to keep them up to date, ready and active.

“We even have a name now,” Lee said, “‘Nehemiah’s watchman.’ Nehemiah means Jehovah’s comforter. We’re also listed on the FEMA website now (http://www.fema.org).”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: READY IN MARYLAND.