Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Class Highlights: CERT 94 - Fire Academy

Fairfax County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Class 94 started April 20, 2015, meeting Mondays and Wednesdays at the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Academy. I hadn't planned on following them through all seven of their classes (unlike in our Shadowing CERTs series), but somehow I ended up doing just that (assisting for six classes and popping in on the other one during a break in another training class).

See the full album of photos on our Facebook page. Don't forget to like us!

(Holding classes twice a week at the Academy is a relatively new model for our program, and it seems to be working well. CERTs get through the entire program in a month, and training seems to build up faster... despite the fact that students receive the same 25 hours of classroom and hands-on training as in the weekly class setting.)

CERT 94 kicked off with Class 1, which was all about introductions -- to the Academy, to their classmates, to the CERT concept, and to the hazards they may encounter in the community and during a disaster.

The students also received their CERT helmets and backpacks:

CERTs of Class 94 during their first class at the Academy. All photos: Joe Loong
Two days later, Class 2 began with a drill (as would all classes from this point on): Told to gear up, the students had little idea of what to do (they hadn't been taught much at this stage) as they were thrown into a simple drill.

Adjunct Instructor John Mayers acts as Incident Commander during the students' first drill.
Following the drill, the CERTs learned how to operate during a disaster response, including how to choose priorities, perform a size-up, and implement the Incident Command System. This was followed by a round-robin of demonstrations, where they went deeper in depthon the CERT division of labor (Command, Accountability, Logistics, Medical, and Rescue).

Beginning with Class 3, things started to get a lot more hands-on... and complicated. In their opening drill, the students started to encounter simulated victims -- both plywood and human -- that they had to deal with. Their subsequent classroom instruction built on this, introducing the CERTs to Disaster Medical Operations, or how to save lives and care for patients in a mass casualty scenario where professional responders are delayed.

CERTs gather simulated victims (plywood "gingerbread" people) in the High Bay during the drill.
Class 4 continued the CERTs' instruction in disaster medical operations. During their opening drill, students had to apply what they'd learned to date, conducting searches and rapidly triaging, tagging, and treating (and later transporting) survivors they encountered.

CERTs maneuver a simulated victim (a plywood "gingerbread" dummy) down the stairs of a burn building.
When they returned to the classroom, they learned about performing head-to-toe assessments and maintaining patient care in the Medical area for as long as it takes -- that is, until professional responders arrive.

After their opening drill (which again, built on everything the CERTs had previously learned), Class 5 was all about hazards, ranging from those they might find in the community, to ones at disaster scenes, to the threat of terrorism, to very real but invisible hazards like debilitating stress.

My patient's-eye-view while being carried on a blanket stretcher by a transport team.
Class 6, Light Search & Rescue Operations, incorporated safe search and size-up techniques, and added use of simple machines -- levers and wedges -- to move obstacles and extricate survivors. The CERTs then used their newly gained lifting and cribbing skills to practice moving stable and unstable loads.

CERTs practice lifting and cribbing techniques on a stable load, to which Volunteer Instructor Edgar Rodriguez has added his weight.
Because the Fire Academy was booked solid with training activities, the CERT's final exercise was pushed back to Wednesday, giving Class 94 a bonus "Class 6.5" in which to work on their skills. It was also a chance for Volunteer Instructor Edgar Rodriguez to play with a Bluetooth portable speaker broadcasting a loop of sound effects:

Two days later, the CERTs of Class 94 gathered for Class 7, their final exercise, where they had to put together everything they've learned -- from setting up Command, Accountability, Logistics, & Medical; to doing scene size-up; treating, triaging, and tagging patients in under 30 seconds; and everything else.

Plus, they had to do it facing live human victim actors made up with realistic moulage (fake wound makeup):

Victim actors show off their simulated wounds (contusions and lacerations).
First, the CERTs got to practice their fire suppression skills:

Then came the drill, where CERTs had to respond to a storm-ravaged apartment building and begin rescue operations, finding, treating, and caring for the survivors they encountered.

CERT rescuers perform a walking assist to get a survivor to Medical.
This exercise also included a few elements I'd never before seen in a CERT final exercise, including a simulated sucking chest wound that needed to be treated, and a simulated gas line that needed to be shut off:

A CERT rescuer treats a survivor, applying an occlusive dressing to a simulated sucking chest wound.

CERTs shut off a simulated natural gas supply line (with a SCBA air tank providing hissing sound effects).
Here, you can see video of search and rescue operations during the drill:

Finally, after a "hot wash" debrief, the CERTs completed their graduation final exercise at the Fire Academy, May 13, 2015.

Congratulations to the CERTs of Fairfax County CERT Class 94!
To the new Fairfax County CERTs of Class 94: Congratulations and welcome! We hope you'll continue to be active and train with our CERT program. To these trained CERTs and all others, we've got a great training opportunity coming up June 6, 2015 -- a CERT mass casualty exercise at the Virginia Task Force 1 Lorton Training Site. Sign up now!

CERT training is free and open to people who live or work in Fairfax County. For more information about CERT training, either at the Fire Academy or at locations throughout the community, see About CERT Training.

Joe Loong is a Blog Editor and Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT. You can email him at blog@fairfaxcountycert.org

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Save the Date to Save on Duct Tape (& More)!

Memorial Day weekend is mere days away! (Or may have already started, depending on how sneaky you are.) We're posting this early so it doesn't get lost in the holiday shuffle -- in addition to grilling, swimming, and all those other traditional unofficial-start-of-summer activities, if you're planning on hitting any Memorial Day sales, keep this in mind:

Virginia's Hurricane Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday starts Monday, May 25! (And ends at midnight, May 31.)

Virginia's Hurricane Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday: May 25-31

During this period, you won't be charged Virginia sales tax on CERT-friendly preparedness gear (whether you buy at a store or from Amazon or another online retailer) when you buy the following items under $60, including:
  • Duct tape!

  • Batteries and cell phone chargers
  • Flashlights, lanterns, headlamps, and glow sticks
  • First aid kits
  • Rope and tarps
  • Weather radios and two-way radios
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Fuel and water storage containers
  • And more!
And like last year, chain saws under $350 and generators under $1,000 are also exempt.

So be smart -- check out the Memorial Day sales specials for gear you need, and save on sales tax on top of that!
    The full list is below -- it's the same as last year's. You can see more information, including frequently asked questions, at the Virginia Department of Taxation site:

    Reminder, all this ties into National Hurricane Preparedness Week (May 24-31), which is just before the official start of US hurricane season (June 1).

    In case you needed to be reminded on why hurricanes are a threat, see the National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center's YouTube video series on hurricanes:

    Have a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day holiday, everyone!

    Joe Loong is a Blog Editor and Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT. You can email him at blog@fairfaxcountycert.org

    Friday, May 15, 2015

    Congratulations to All Our New Fairfax County CERT Graduates!

    First off, I apologize for getting a little behind in posting recaps from the final exercises for Fairfax County CERT Classes 94 & 95. (And from the Dulles disaster drill... and the moulage workshops... and....) We're working on it.

    In the meantime, please join me in congratulating the CERTs from our most recent training classes:

    Class 90 - George Mason University: I wrote previously about GMU Class 90, where Adjunct and Volunteer Instructors went over to the GMU campus to teach CERT as part of the students' coursework. Here's an update with a team photo taken a few days after their final exercise, when the new CERTs received their certificates:

    CERTs of GMU Class 90 receive their certificates. Photo: Brian Talbot.

    Class 91 - Tysons Corner and Class 92 - Burke: I already wrote about Classes 91 and 92, which were taught at locations in the community, but I'll feature their class photos again for the sake of completeness:

    CERTs of Tysons Corner Class 91. Photo: James Sobecke.

    CERTS of Burke Class 92. Photo: Donna Hosek.
    Class 94 - Fire Academy (There was no Class 93):

    CERTs of Fire Academy Class 94 (as well as one member of Class 95). Photo: Joe Loong

    Class 95 - Vienna: This CERT class trained at the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department, but performed their final exercise at the Fire Academy, which I believe is a first for us:

    CERTs of Class 95. Photo: Joe Loong
    Class 96 - Mount Vernon: Class 96 trained at the Mount Vernon Government Center in Alexandria, and completed their final exercise at Fire Station11 (Penn Daw).

    Photo: Jim McPheeters

    If you're interested in taking CERT training, as of right now, there are a few spots left in Class 97, which starts this Monday, May 18 at the Fire Academy; the class meets Monday and Wednesday nights from 7-10:30pm. Register now.

    Want to get CERT training at your place? If you're part of a homeowner's association, workplace, or other community group, can get a minimum of 12 people to commit to CERT training, and can provide a training space (community center, clubhouse, meeting room, etc.), CERT instructors will come to you! Email James Sobecke at training@fairfaxcountycert.org for more info.

    Congratulations to all the new CERTs! We hope you'll stay involved with us, whether it's participating as a victim actor in an exercise; taking advantage of our many advanced training classes; talking up CERT to your neighbors and friends; or coming to the monthly CERT program meetings (usually at the Fairfax County Government Center, every third Tuesday from 7-9:30pm).

    CERTs, please join us in welcoming all the new members!

    Joe Loong, volunteer Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT, is an editorial content and community engagement consultant. You can email him at blog@fairfaxcountycert.org

    Friday, April 17, 2015

    GMU Students Complete CERT Training at the Fairfax Fire & Rescue Academy

    For six weeks, 30 George Mason University students have been meeting in the campus Recreation and Athletic Complex for Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training, part of their coursework for HEAL 205 - Principles of Accident Causation and Prevention. (See our previous article on how CERT training fits into the GMU students' curriculum: CERT Training Prepares George Mason Students for the "Big & Bad.")

    In classroom and hands-on training, the students have learned to deal with big emergencies where first responders might be delayed, including earthquakes, tornadoes, and active shooter events. Along the way, they've learned disaster response skills like how to assess, triage, and treat survivors of mass casualty events; how to use simple tests, duct tape, and rags to stop the "3 Killers" (obstructed airways, major bleeding, and shock) in 30 seconds or less; how to perform search and rescue in moderately damaged buildings; and most importantly, how to keep themselves safe while they help others.

    Now, it's time to leave GMU and put those skills to the test in a graduation exercise on new and unfamiliar territory: the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Academy -- the very same facility where the county's firefighters and EMTs train.

    The Actors Arrive
    While the students get organized and put on their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), CERT staffers get busy applying moulage, or wound makeup, to the volunteer victim actors (many of whom are GMU students recruited for the occasion) portraying disaster survivors.

    A few of the victim actors who participated in the drill. All are wearing moulage (wound makeup), simulating lacerations and impalement by debris (wood and glass). All photos: Joe Loong
    With their fake wounds and acting skills, live human actors greatly increase the challenge (as well as the benefits) of the training exercise.

    Facing the Fire
    However, before the GMU CERT students begin the final exercise, they first must face off against an instructor-controlled fire, and put it out using a fire extinguisher:

    CERT fire suppression teams consist of two people: One person to operate the extinguisher, and a buddy who watches out for hazards. Each student gets a chance to try both roles.

    Also, as a perk of being at the Fire Academy, students get the chance to operate a fire hose:

    GMU CERT students operate a fire hose outside the burn building, under the guidance of Fairfax County firefighters.

    Facing the Scenario
    With the preliminaries out of the way, the evening's main course begins. The drill's scenario: A tornado strikes the GMU campus, inflicting heavy damage. The GMU CERT students must go to a damaged dorm (represented here by Burn Building A), and must assess the scene, begin disaster operations, and help survivors until professional responders arrive.

    The Command Staff sets up, establishing a Command Post, Medical area, and Logistics cache, as well as deploying teams of rescuers to size up the scene and determine if it's safe to begin search and rescue activities.

    The Command staff track Rescue efforts and issue orders at the Incident Command Post.

    When cleared to begin, Rescue teams are assigned to search specific areas of the darkened, damaged building. When they find survivors, the GMU students must quickly assess each one, treating only life-threatening bleeding, sucking chest wounds, or closed airways, then give each survivor a Green, Yellow, Red, or Black tag (indicating their treatment priority) and move on to the next survivor. 

    CERT Rescue team members assist a survivor and record her status to report back to Command.

    Because this is a mass casualty scenario, the student rescuers have a goal of spending only 30 seconds on each survivor, so they can do the greatest good for the greatest number of people. After they complete their initial task, they report back to the Incident Commander, who assembles a picture of the overall disaster scene, and uses that information to issue followup assignments.

    CERT rescuers use simple tests, like squeezing fingernails to check perfusion, to quickly determine a survivor's status. They also treat major bleeding with pressure dressings, as seen above.

    Meanwhile, the Logistics team gathers needed supplies, including tarps, bandaging material, and stretchers, which transport teams will use to bring survivors back to Medical.

    CERTs use a stretcher to transport a survivor back to Medical.

    At first, the Medical area is quiet. However, as Rescue teams bring in survivors, each one needs to be reassessed, treated, and given ongoing care. As the disaster operation grows in size and complexity, so does the Medical area.

    CERT rescuers deliver survivors to the Red-tag section of the Medical area.

    For the GMU CERT students, the entire exercise scene is stressful, complicated, and confusing... just like in a real disaster. They utilize the skills they've learned in class to cope and adapt as they work to help survivors, while keeping themselves safe.

    After the exercise concludes, the students meet to debrief and assess their performance. Then, there is cake.

    GMU adjunct faculty member (and CERT) Nancy Chamberlain cuts cake for the newly minted CERTs.
    Most of the GMU students will go on to the health or education fields, working in public schools or public facilities. Hopefully, they'll never need to employ the mass casualty response skills they learned in CERT. However, if something does occur, they'll be well-equipped to help themselves and others.

    Congratulations to the new GMU student CERTs of Class 90, and special thanks to all the volunteer victim actors, CERT staffers, and GMU adjunct faculty member Nancy Chamberlain for her innovative approach in integrating CERT training into the curriculum.

    For more photos from the exercise, check out the CERT Class 90 Final Exercise album on the Fairfax County CERT Facebook page.

    Fairfax County CERT offers free training several times a year at the Fire Academy and locations throughout the community. The next Academy CERT class begins April 20, 2015, with another starting May 18. For more information and more upcoming dates, please visit About CERT Training.

    Joe Loong, volunteer Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT, is an editorial content and community engagement consultant. You can email him at blog@fairfaxcountycert.org

    Friday, April 10, 2015

    Congratulations, CERT 91 & 92 Graduates

    Not everyone in Fairfax County can come out to the Fire Academy for Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training. That's why our committed team of instructors will come to your location, to train your group, on your schedule... all completely free!

    All you need to do is get a dozen people to sign up, and provide a facility where we can hold the training (like a community center, clubhouse, or meeting room).

    James Sobecke, Volunteer Training Coordinator, passed along updates from two of the most recent CERT classes that took place in the community:
    CERT 91
    20 students completed the 20-hour CERT Basic training class on March 14, 2015. The class was held in the Tysons area of McLean, Virginia, over eight weekend morning and afternoon sessions of 2.5 hours each.

    Seven of the students were members of the National Language Service Corps (NLSC), a Department of Defense program consisting of service-minded volunteers who make themselves available when there's a sudden, short-term need for language skills in support of any U.S. government agency.

    All students received classroom instruction and hands-on training on basic emergency response skills, including disaster medical operations, light search-and-rescue, and fire suppression.

    CERTs from Class 91 get ready to practice using fire extinguishers in the parking lot. Photo: Carlos Santiso
    The last session consisted of a simulated disaster scenario exercise with four stations to test and demonstrate CERT skills. Live victim actors added realism and authenticity to the exercise, conducted in an office building setting.

    The new CERTs of Class 91 pose with Volunteer Instructor James Sobecke (left, green shirt). Photo: James Sobecke.

    CERT 92
    17 new CERTs graduated from CERT Basic Class 92 on April 1, 2015, held in Burke, Virginia, with the support and assistance of the Burke Centre Conservancy. Class consisted of eight weeknight sessions of 2.5 hours each, and eight CERT volunteers assisted with the presentation of this class.

    The majority of class members were Burke Centre residents, so they were conveniently training right in their own neighborhood. Also, since CERT training prepares residents to help themselves, their families, and their neighbors in the event of a disaster in their community, having CERT training out where people live makes perfect sense.

    CERT students assist a simulated victim actor. Photo: James Sobecke
    The class ended with a night-time indoor and outdoor exercise at the Oaks Community Center in Burke, and also featured live victim actors and four skills-testing stations.

    Freshly minted graduates of CERT Class 92. Photo: Donna Hosek
    If you're interested in getting CERT training for your homeowner's association, workplace, faith-based group, or other community organization, please email James Sobecke at training@fairfaxcountycert.org.

    Please join me in congratulating all the new CERTs!

    Joe Loong, volunteer Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT, is an editorial content and community engagement consultant. You can email him at blog@fairfaxcountycert.org

    Thursday, April 9, 2015

    Want to Be a Survivor? 3 Victim Actor Opportunities!

    We've got three victim actor opportunities coming up soon! Recent CERT graduates from Classes 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 91, and 92 are especially encouraged to role-play a survivor and take a look at things from the other side of the green vest.
    Victim actors show off their wound makeup from the Spring 2014 final exercise. Photo: Joe Loong.
    Get bloodied up in wound makeup and help CERT students practice their skills on real, live human beings in a realistic, stressful, simulated mass casualty incident!

    The first two exercises are CERT graduation drills at the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Academy in Fairfax, Virginia.
    • Monday, April 13, from 7PM-10PM. This is the final exercise for CERT students from the George Mason University class. There are only a few remaining victim actor slots;  RSVP required to Anita at deputylead@fairfaxcountycert.org if you're interested.
    • Thursday, April 30, from 7PM-10PM. This is the final exercise for CERT students from the Vienna class. Also please RSVP to Anita at deputylead@fairfaxcountycert.org.
    Again, RSVP Required: Please email Anita at deputylead@fairfaxcountycert.org

    Victim Actor Requirements: 
    • 15 years of age or older
    • Must wear closed-toe shoes (no flip-flops, Crocs, sandals, etc) 
    • Should dress in clothes appropriate for the weather and that you don't mind messing up with fake blood, etc. 
    • Will need to sign a waiver 
    We will make you up in moulage (simulated wound makeup) and give you symptoms to role-play.

    The third victim actor opportunity was posted by Jeffery Katz, who writes:
    We are looking for willing and able-bodied volunteers to play victims this year at the big USAR Exercise being held from April 24 - 26.

    Any time they can offer to use would be greatly appreciated. You will need to be in a mindset that you are camping out for the time you are there, day or night. Some of you will be mobile victims and others will be used in other situations depending on the experience level we will need.  We won’t have those particulars until time gets closer.

    If you would like to participate, please send an email to fire.cert@fairfaxcounty.gov with your name and the date and time you would like to participate.

    Joe Loong, volunteer Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT, is an editorial content and community engagement consultant. You can email him at blog@fairfaxcountycert.org

    Tuesday, March 31, 2015

    Volunteer as a CERT for the World Police & Fire Games, Starting Soon

    CERTs, we're counting down to the June 26 start of the Fairfax 2015 World Police and Fire Games, and we need to help recruit 4,000 volunteers to make sure that these are the most spectacular Games ever!


    As a trained CERT with recognized skills, you have the special opportunity to serve as a Medical Volunteer.

    If you're over 18, have completed the CERT training, have a current CPR/AED card, and are trained in basic First Aid, you're eligible to be a Medical Volunteer. (If not, don't worry -- you can still be a general volunteer.)

    We're working hard to make sure CERTs who need CPR/AED and First Aid training will be able to get it before the Games. The next available classes are:
    June 26 will be here before you know it. Sign up as a Medical Volunteer now!

    Joe Loong, volunteer Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT, is an editorial content and community engagement consultant. You can email him at blog@fairfaxcountycert.org