CERT expands with Villages

Community Emergency Response Team volunteer and acting victim Phyllis Archibald, center, sits in distress over an injured finger as graduate Dale Myszewski, foreground, assesses her needs.

The army of volunteers ready to help Villagers in times of need has grown stronger. Almost 30 more people in the community ­— nearly 250 in total — now have the skills to help when tragedy strikes. The Community Emergency Response Team of The Villages added 28 members to its roster on Friday at Eisenhower Recreation Center after a mock-tragedy drill and graduation ceremony. The basic training graduates had to treat mock injuries such as broken arms, head wounds and bee stings as a part of their last exercise before graduating. In addition to continually adding members, CERT also will improve and add to its training as the community continues to grow. The Villages Public Safety Department sponsors CERT of The Villages, which considers itself a force multiplier, CERT Cmdr. Ellen Rogers said.

The team had about 220 members in addition to the 28 graduates Friday.

Several more started the class and will be able to graduate with the next class to begin in February, Rogers said.

The Villages has 12 CERT teams for the 12 districts in the Village Community Development Districts, she said.

So far, CERT’s District 12 includes all six Villages south of State Road 44, Rogers said.

“We will ask who would like to be a supervisor for the District 13 CERT program,” she said. “In the class graduating Friday, I would say the majority are from that area south of 44. They’re a little bit young and more active retirees.”

All volunteers must be residents of The Villages because all CERT classes are in recreation centers, she said.

She said she hopes that some of these CERT volunteers will help train new volunteers so they can offer three classes a year instead of the two a year now.

Training requirements also will expand, Rogers said. Next year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will have new curriculum materials for CERT to assist with responses to terrorism and active shooters, she said.

“We’re starting to all be trained in the use of tourniquets,” Rogers said, as well as Stop the Bleed classes.

With more divisions, she said CERT hopes to get the younger recent retirees involved in teaching these classes as well as monthly CPR and AED classes for residents.

“Our motto is doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people in the shortest time,” Rogers said. So the volunteers assist the fire or law enforcement agencies with which they work.

The volunteers are trained in first aid, CPR, small fire suppression and light search-and-rescue. They can treat minor injuries, leaving professional firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics more time for serious injuries.

CERT volunteers are trained to first care for themselves and their families after a disaster and then their neighbors as they expand to the community. They can go house to house after a hurricane, tornado or other disaster, often starting in their own neighborhoods, which may not be accessible to emergency vehicles.

At Friday’s graduation, everyone went into action at the start of the first accident scenario in groups of five or six.

Mark Tetlow, of the Village of Fenney, lay on the floor while cradling his wrist.

Tetlow’s arm had moulage makeup on it to depict a possible fracture, and the groups had to work as teams to assess the scene and treat the injury.

Mike Schobinger, of the Village of Bonita, is a medical instructor with CERT and provides first-aid training for the program.

“The goal is for everybody to demonstrate their skills they learned over the 12-course program,” Schobinger said. “They have to work together to control bystanders, call 911 and treat the injured person.”

Schobinger said the basic training is just the start, and after graduating and receiving their certificate is when CERT members start volunteering.

The program is the first levels of required knowledge needed to treat injuries and accidents.

“I know that every person who is a full member of CERT has a certain level of training and experience,” Schobinger said. “But we always encourage them to keep learning and taking more classes.”

Some of the injury actors put on dramatic performances to make the experience more realistic.

Phyllis Archibald, of the Village of Silver Lake, played a woman with a hand injury.

Archibald, who is the Division 1 leader, moaned in pain while others treated her and told bystanders to leave space for first responders.

CERT members are trained to stay calm and focused when dealing with accidents.

Members also demonstrated their knowledge of how to respond to a fire.

Bob McMahon, of the Village Rio Grande, has about 10 years of experience being a volunteer firefighter and EMT when he lived in Maine.

McMahon brought the groups outside to practice spraying a water cannon on a pretend fire.

“The things to remember the most are ‘PASS,’” he said. “Pull the pin, Aim, Squeeze and Sweep are the four steps we use when putting out a fire.”

After each group went through all six scenarios they gathered to receive certificates for graduating from the program.

Public Safety Fire Chief Edmund Cain attended the graduation ceremony to thank everyone for their dedication.

“Thank you all for wanting to help your community and help keep people safe,” he said. “It’s neat to visit other places and talk about our CERT program, because we have such a large number of volunteers in CERT who want to help.”

CERT is built on a model started by the city of Los Angeles Fire Department in 1985 when that department realized that some basic training would help more citizens survive and safely help others until first responders could arrive after an earthquake or other disaster. Other fire departments around the country adopted the model for tornados and hurricanes.

“They realized first responders couldn’t get back into neighborhoods,” Rogers said. “CERT volunteers take care of their neighbors.”

CERT’s trained volunteers can enter houses with minor damage, such as broken windows, while leaving unstable damaged buildings, such as those with cracked foundations or collapsing roofs, to the professionals with more safety gear. They can do light search and rescue.

“We could be called out to look for a dementia patient,” Rogers said.

After Hurricane Irma in 2017, the team did welfare checks for people in the area without electrical power, asking if they had ice and medicine and calling 911 if needed.

The team also helps firefighters recover after they have been in a fire, rehabilitation that she said is required if a firefighter has used up two 30-minute oxygen bottles.

CERT of The Villages has a firefighter rehabilitation truck, fans, specialized chairs with armrests that can hold bags of ice, pulse monitors, blood pressure cuffs and other equipment to check vital signs very quickly, Rogers said.

The team also works with Lake County Fire Rescue, she said.

“There aren’t that many CERT programs in Florida that have firefighter rehabilitation” capabilities, Rogers said.

“We’re a self-funded organization,” Rogers said. “We rely on donations.”

A clipboard located at the back of the room at the graduation allowed members to sign up for their first shifts with CERT for the tree lighting ceremonies, beginning Nov. 30.

CERT also has a big band World War II-era benefit concert coming up Feb. 25 at North Lake Presbyterian Church. Tickets are $20 and available from CERT members or The Villages box offices, Rogers said.

To volunteer for CERT, go to certofthevillages.org and click Join CERT at the top of the web page toward the right and send the application electronically.

Staff writer Dayna Straehley can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5408, or dayna.straehley@thevillagesmedia.com. Staff writer Maddie Cutler can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5386, or maddie.cutler@thevillagesmedia.com.