Friday, January 16, 2015

Just Announced: CERT Winter/Spring 2015 Classes!

Registration is now open for Fairfax County CERT's Winter/Spring 2015 classes. See below for details: All classes are free, and students will receive CERT disaster response gear at no charge. Space is limited... they're filling up fast, so register now, then tell your friends!

CERT students practice fire suppression techniques. Photo: Joe Loong

Registration is OPEN for the following classes:

* [CLASS FULL] CERT 91 will meet in Tysons Corner on four consecutive Saturdays: February 21, 28, March 7, and 14. Classes will meet in the morning (8-10:30AM) and afternoon (11:30AM-2PM) -- students must attend both morning and afternoon sessions. Also, for this class priority will be given to members of the DoD National Language Service Corps; however, like all of these CERT classes, all people 18 or older who live or work in Fairfax County can sign up.

* CERT 92 is being held at the Burke Conservancy in Burke on Monday and Wednesday nights from 7-9:30PM. Class dates are March 4, 9, 11, 16, 23, 25, 30, and April 1.

* CERT 93 meets at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Academy, Wednesday nights from 7-10:30PM. Class dates are March 4, 11, 18, 25, and April 8, 15, 22, and 29.

* CERT 94 also meets at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Academy; however, class will meet on both Monday and Wednesday nights from 7-10:30PM. Class dates are April 29, May 4, 6, 11, 13, 18, and 20.

* CERT 95 is being held at the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department in Vienna on Thursday nights from 7-10:30PM. Class dates are March 5, 12, 26, April 2, 9, 16, 23, and 30.

In CERT training, you'll get classroom and hands-on training in disaster response. You'll learn how to save lives with duct tape and Sharpie markers; conduct triage and disaster medical operations; put out small fires; perform search and rescue; prepare for disasters: and much, much more. Learn more about training with Fairfax County CERT.

Plus, you'll get a backpack of CERT rescue gear that you'll use in training, including during a realistic, full-scale graduation exercise.

Training is free to all adults over 18, of all physical abilities, who live or work in Fairfax County.

To Register for CERT Training:

Signups for CERT training are managed through Fairfax County's volunteer management system. To register for free CERT Training, you'll need to set up a volunteer profile:

1. Here or above, click the title of the class you want: CERT 91, CERT 92, CERT 93, CERT 94, CERT 95
2. On the Opportunity Details page for the class, click "Apply."
3. Click the "New Volunteer Sign Up" button and create a profile by entering your information in the required fields. (If you already have a Fairfax County volunteer account, you can sign in with that.)

You can view an instructional video that walks you through the registration process: How to Register for Fairfax County CERT (skip ahead to the 2:20 mark).

If you have problems trying to register, email Jeffrey Katz at 

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

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

You Are Here: Local CERT Teams in the Process of Forming

The Fairfax County CERT Program is seeking your participation in the establishment and expansion of local CERT Teams throughout Fairfax County.

The Fairfax County CERT Program is moving forward with the development of Local (community or neighborhood) CERT Teams. Consistent with the CERT mission, the goal of this effort is to encourage and foster the formation of Local CERT Teams by bringing together interested CERTs who live or work in close proximity to each other, to form teams capable of responding locally to disasters when professional responders are overwhelmed or delayed in their ability to respond; “neighbors helping neighbors.”

There currently are a small number of local teams; we would like to expand this number where there is sufficient support.

If you are interested in joining, leading, or helping to form a local CERT team in your neighborhood, your community, or where you work, please send an email to with the following information:

  • Name:
  • CERT Class (if known):
  • Email:
  • Address (please include your zip code to help us sort):
  • Phone number:
  • If you are already part of a local CERT Team, please indicate the Team Name:
  • Please indicate if you are interested or willing to help organize a team:
  • Provide any other information you feel is relevant:

It may take a few weeks to compile data, but we will reach back out to all of those who respond with a plan to share information and coordinate local networking.

The Fairfax County CERT Program needs your support.

Thank you,

CERT Team Working Group

Thursday, January 8, 2015

CERTs Tuned in, Turned on to Radio for Emergency Communications

Communicating on the radio is just like talking on the phone, right? It's easy; everyone knows how to do it; so why do we need to practice it?

If you've ever had to talk with someone who wouldn't let you get a word in, or who you couldn't understand, or who took forever to get to the point... then, make it so that only one person at a time can talk... and finally, throw in the confusion and stress of a disaster, then you'll see that it's harder than it looks at first glance.

The December 2 Communications Practical Exercise was a followup class, putting CERTs to the test on the knowledge they learned in previous CERT Emergency Communications classes.

After a brief classroom refresher on radio use and procedures (including an update from CERT Adjunct Instructor Brian Talbot on changes to Fairfax County Fire & Rescue's radio prowords -- in a nutshell, "Copy" is back to meaning "understood," and "Direct" has been replaced by the more common "Affirmative"), the CERT students were divided into teams of two, given handheld FRS radios, and sent to Division leaders for assignments.

Division controllers during the radio exercise. Clockwise from top left: Alpha: Edgar Rodriguez; Bravo: Brendan O'Neill; Charlie: James Sobecke; Delta: Carlos Santiso

In this scenario, CERT searchers were given the mission of conducting a damage assessment of the storm-damaged Fire Academy grounds. Teams had to identify pre-placed cones marking hazards, survivors, and other notable items in their search area, then use proper radio procedures to quickly and accurately report their findings to their Division leads.

CERT search team members check in with Division Bravo Lead for call signs and instructions.

Complicating matters was weather that matched the scenario: cold and rainy. Personally, I learned a valuable lesson about using waterproof notebooks to take notes. (In fact, the very next day, I ordered a bunch for my own supplies). The benefit of using plastic bags to protect radio equipment and sheet protectors to protect maps also became apparent.

In the after-action, students and instructors discussed challenges they encountered, including the proper time and place for repeat-backs (reading back information to verify accurate reception) and what to do in the event of unreliable or lost radio communications.

Also, the Division controllers who managed the radio nets (the hardest job of the evening), noted that they had initially set up too close together, making it hard to communicate over the noise.

There's a reason why radio communication isn't a part of the core CERT curriculum -- it deserves its own training, which these classes do a great job in fulfilling. But CERTs interested in getting deeper into radio would find even more the following week...

Hams and CERTs
On December 10, CERTs interested in amateur (Ham) radio met in Fairfax County's Alternate Emergency Operations Center (AEOC, located in the basement of the Fairfax County Government Center), to learn more about the role of amateur radio in CERT and emergency communications.

As previously noted, there's a natural overlap between CERTs and Hams, with many getting involved in one program, then discovering the other. In fact, most of the meeting attendees had already gotten their Ham licenses, or were in the process of doing so. However, many of the them hadn't gotten on the air since, and were looking for help on what to do next.

CERT James Sobecke outlines the role of Hams during emergencies.

In his presentation, CERT Volunteer Instructor James Sobecke talked about the role of Hams during emergencies, and some of the ways that CERTs could become involved. One of them is to join the Fairfax County Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), which currently runs a weekly radio net for ARES members to check in.

CERT and ARES member Mary Moon checks in to the Wednesday night ARES radio net in the radio room at the AEOC.

Another possibility is developing more CERT-specific radio capabilities, including a Fairfax County CERT radio net (similar to one that has been tested over the past few months), using the Fairfax County CERT website to provide resources for CERTs interested in building their emergency radio skills, and incorporating more amateur radio in CERT training exercises.

Mary Moon displays some of her radio equipment.

As demonstrated by the people in the room, there's a lot of interest in developing CERT emergency communication capabilities using amateur radio, so stay tuned for more developments.

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

Friday, December 19, 2014

Happy Holidays From Fairfax County CERT!

[Editor's Note: Jeffrey Katz, Volunteer Liaison, shares some year-end CERT successes in a holiday message adapted from his weekly email. From all of us at Fairfax County CERT, happy holidays!]
For the CERT program here in Fairfax County, it has been a banner year, that would have been impossible without those who reside in or work in Fairfax County. You -- the students and volunteers -- make the program one of the premier CERT operations in the country.

For the calendar year 2014, the CERT program has issued 291 CERT certificates (from 14 classes) to volunteers who have completed the 24- to 30-hour training. That is a graduation rate of about 80% of the total registrants for the classes.

During the same time frame, we have held 35 extracurricular classes, trainings, and exercises, with a total participation of 732 students. This is not including the 200-plus actors/victims from the classes and exercises, and the 120 Boy Scouts who attended the CERT/Emergency Preparedness Camporee at the Academy.

Some of the things to look forward to during the next 18 months:
  • The formation of neighborhood teams.
  • Introduction to windshield surveys.
  • Volunteering for the World Police Fire Games in July of 2015.
  • More refresher classes and exercises.
  • And many more opportunities to further your knowledge and skills.
  • Save-the-date: CERT Potluck on January 18, 2015
And finally, the Fairfax County CERT leadership wishes you all a safe and happy holiday season.

Jeffrey Katz is Volunteer Liaison, Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department. You can email him at

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Turkey Inferno Claims Another House

[Editor's Note: Lest you think that Fairfax County CERT Instructor Mike Forgy's annual "don't burn down your house trying to deep-fry a turkey" post is holiday-themed fire safety puffery... well, it happened again this week: A Tennessee man accidentally torched his house while deep-frying a Thanksgiving turkey in the garage:

If that's not enough to make you reconsider the good old oven, check out this compilation of the 12 greatest deep-fried turkey disaster videos of all time.

Also, turning 180 degrees from fire, in case you haven't been paying attention, we're getting wintry weather on the East Coast on one of the busiest travel days of the year, so please be sure to stay safe this Thanksgiving holiday! Now, here's Mike...]

Here we go again, the turkey fryer post! Did you know that, according to the US Fire Administration, Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, and frying food brings the biggest risk of cooking fires? Throw in a propane-powered turkey deep fryer filled with hot cooking oil, and you've got a real recipe for disaster.

Please make sure if you are planning to fry a turkey this Thanksgiving, you do so safely. Turkey fryer fires are extremely dangerous and I would like everyone to enjoy their holiday, not have it end in tears, or worse.

Check out this short demo showing what happens during a fryer fire:

How are you cooking your Thanksgiving turkey? What the heck does this have to do with CERT, safety or anything other than a cooking class?   Frying a whole turkey has become popular in the past few years, but if not done correctly, the effects can be devastating. Unfortunately, if you are novice, or even have experience frying a turkey, it is a serious and dangerous prospect.

There are many reasons using a deep fryer to cook a turkey can be dangerous. Since using the typical pedestal-type turkey fryer SHOULD NEVER BE DONE INDOORS (this includes a garage or barn, even if is not entirely closed in), making sure you have the space and equipment to do this outdoors is important.

Also bear in mind what the weather is doing; if it is windy, raining or snowing, this could affect your fryer. In order to fry your turkey you will need to get the oil in the fryer up to at least 350 degrees ...350 degrees, which, if you did not know, IS REALLY HOT! 

Working with an unstable product such as blazing hot oil over an open flame is dangerous, even if you know what you are doing. Other safety issues include:

* If the burner is not on level ground, the units can easily tip over, spilling hot oil (3-5 gallons of hot oil at 350 degrees!!!) onto the burner and creating a LARGE, FAST fire.

* If the pot is overfilled with oil, the oil may spill over when the turkey is lowered into the pot. Oil will hit the flames on the burner and engulf the burner with fire. There are ways to measure out the right amount of oil, which is imperative to ensure you do not have the pot overfilled.

* Water and hot oil do not go together. Partially frozen turkeys contain water of course, so if you lower a partially frozen turkey into a fryer, expect an extensive fire. Heaven help you if you place a frozen turkey in the fryer to try and defrost it....this will cause an explosion as the water expands in the hot (350 degree) oil. DON'T DO IT.

* The outdoor fryers have no thermostat controls, so they can overheat quickly and cause the oil to boil over the sides of the pot faster than you can react.

* The pot and handles get EXTREMELY hot (remember, 350 degrees of boiling oil), posing severe burn hazards.

I am sure there is someone out there saying to themselves, "I'm going to fry a turkey anyway." It won't be the first time someone didn't listen to what I said. You still want to fry that turkey? Ok, fine. Please, remember these things as you go about frying. These are not guaranteed to stop a fire or keep you from getting burned, but they may help in mitigating a larger disaster (such as burning your house down):

* Never use a turkey fryer on a wooden, or composite deck, or inside a garage, home, or within any structure.

* Place the fryer a safe distance away from any building (if you place it in the grass, the grass should not be overly dry, nor overly wet. Also count on the grass dying and never growing back).

* Fryers should be used on a firm, flat surface to prevent them from tipping over. Try the middle of a parking lot... not the sloping driveway in front of your house next to your car.

* Once the pot is filled with the recommended amount of oil (probably peanut oil) and the burner is ignited, you should NEVER leave the fryer unattended. This also means do not cook if you are under the influence. Please, don't drink and fry.

* Keep pets inside and keep children at a safe distance. A safe distance being somewhere where they will never see the fryer, because once they do, they will want to get close.

* Use well-insulated gloves or oven mitts and wear safety glasses (I think I know where you might have a pair laying around) to guard against oil splatters.

* Do not wear loose clothing as these may ignite if you get too close to the flame or the oil, or both. If your clothes do catch on fire, remember, Stop, Drop and Roll!

*Turkeys must be thoroughly thawed. While very tasty, be very careful of injecting marinades into your turkey. The extra liquid in the bird may cause the oil to spill over.

*Keep a portable dry chemical fire extinguisher nearby. Never use a water type extinguisher to extinguish a grease or oil fire. Do not deploy the garden hose to assist with your turkey fryer fire, this will do MUCH, MUCH more harm than good.

* If your fryer does catch fire call 9-1-1 immediately!

Finally, remember the oil inside the pot will remain hot for hours after your turkey has been removed. DO NOT bring it indoors and again, keep children and pets away from the pot.

For more information on some of the hazards of cooking fires (not just the turkey fryer fires), please visit the United States Fire Administration's website for a copy of Behavioral Mitigation of Cooking Fires [PDF], located here:

Thanks for reading and I hope everyone has a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

-- Mike

Mike Forgy is an Adjunct Instructor with Fairfax County CERT.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Shadowing CERTs: Class 7: Fire Suppression

[This week, on Shadowing CERTs: On their seventh and final week of training, the students of Fairfax County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Classes 85 and 86 get some hands-on training with fire extinguishers, and face one last drill before their final graduation exercise on November 15. Are they up to the challenge?]

It's Monday night, and the air in Burn Building A at the Fire and Rescue Academy is still warm and sooty from a firefighter training exercise earlier that day.

Burned pallets from an earlier exercise in Burn Building A. All photos: Joe Loong

It's fitting, since this week, the students of Fairfax County CERT Classes 85 and 86 are about to get some hands-on training in fire suppression.

But first, they have a classroom lecture about fire chemistry, fire safety, and the role of CERTs in putting out small fires (fires smaller than a person and which can be put out in under five seconds). CERTs don't run into burning buildings; when they see a fire, they determine if they can safely attempt to put it out with a fire extinguisher, and if they can't, they get out.

CERT Gary Nisker holds the fire extinguisher while instructor Mike Forgy demonstrates the workings of a two-person fire suppression team.

CERTs on fire suppression teams work in teams of two, where the person using the fire extinguisher has only one job (the easy one): Use the extinguisher to put out the fire. The other team member must keep one hand on their partner, while checking for hazards and watching out for the safety of the team.

A CERT fire suppression team from Class 85 uses a water fire extinguisher on a fire pan.

After the lecture, each CERT student gets a chance to perform both fire suppression team roles, facing off against a propane-fueled fire pan controlled by instructor Brian Talbot. When handling the extinguisher, they use the P.A.S.S. technique (Pull pin and test, Aim, Squeeze the handle, Sweep at the base of the fire), then serve as the person in the back, making sure that the team stays safe and never turns its back on the fire.

You can see the CERTs in action in the following videos -- Class 85:

And Class 86:

(You can find more photos from the CERTs' fire suppression training at the Fairfax County CERT Facebook Page: CERT Class 85, 10/27/14 and CERT Class 86, 10/29/14, where you will also see the CERTs handling a real fire hose under the guidance of a Fairfax County firefighter.)

CERTs handle a fire hose under the guidance of instructor Paul Bertovich.

Drill, Baby, Drill

Immediately after the fire suppression training, the CERTs are sent into their last drill before the November 15 final graduation exercise. Once again, they must take all of the knowledge and skills they've learned over the previous seven weeks and put it together as they respond to the scenario, a simulated hurricane-struck building.

CERTs check in with Command and Accountability.

The CERTs must set up a command post and establish Command, Accountability, Logistics, Medical, and Rescue functions. Then, they have to send teams to size up the situation and determine whether the scene is safe to begin rescue operations. (For the Monday CERTs, certain areas of the burn building are deemed off-limits, due to the recent burn activity.)

CERT rescue teams encounter a rescue dummy.

The CERT rescuers then must methodically search the structure, and rapidly assess and treat the simulated victims they encounter. Their goal is to spend no more than 30 seconds on each victim, treating only the "three killers": airway obstructions, major bleeding, and shock, then tagging the victim according to the proper triage category (Red, Yellow, Green, or Black.)

CERT rescuers assess and treat a gingerbread in the burn building.

After the initial search, CERTs must then transport the survivors to Medical and provide care until first responders arrive.

CERT rescuers maneuver a plywood "gingerbread" victim down the stairs.

Throughout the drill, the CERTs must use every skill they've learned, from giving complete orders and maintaining accountability, to marking buildings and applying pressure dressings, while above all, remembering to keep themselves safe while doing the greatest good for the greatest number.

It's a lot to remember.

At the end of the exercise, the CERTs meet to debrief. It's their last chance to ask questions. With no classes to make up, they have two weeks to organize and prepare for their graduation full-scale exercise: a simulated mass casualty incident, featuring live human victim actors covered in wound makeup, at the realistically damaged training facility in Lorton.

Be a Victim!

On November 15, you can be part of the action: If you're a previously trained CERT, you can participate as a player. Otherwise, all persons 15 years and up are eligible to be victim actors for the exercise. If you've been following their progress, it's your chance to see up close how the CERTs perform.

How will they do? We'll see on November 15!

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

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Shadowing CERTs: Class 6: Light Search & Rescue Operations

[Previously, on Shadowing CERTs: Over the past five weeks, the students of Fairfax County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Classes 85 and 86 have learned the mindset, knowledge, and disaster response skills it takes to be a CERT. In their next-to-last class, Light Search & Rescue Operations, CERTs are faced with an unfamiliar building, then must learn new skills on how to safely extricate victims.]

The line of the night comes early, during the pre-drill refresher: "Worst turkey, easiest to get out." It's a mishearing of instructor Mike Forgy's guidance on determining priorities for transporting survivors to Medical. Although the actual line is, "Worst hurt, easiest to get out," the turkey version still kind of fits. And it won't be the only miscommunication of the evening.

CERTs set up Command outside Building B and await orders. All Photos: Joe Loong

This drill throws something new at the CERT students: Building B. Although they may have done a lap of it as part of earlier scene size-ups, they haven't been inside. It's much bigger than the other burn buildings, with floors that mimic the layout of an apartment building and office building. Unknown to the CERTs, simulated victims are only on the third floor, but it's still a lot of ground to cover.

A CERT rescue team treats a simulated survivor in a bed.

The CERTs get to work, searching for survivors in a post-tornado scenario. As they search for plywood victims, problems arise: Rescue teams are idled, waiting for initial sizeup teams to return. Simulated hazards are overlooked or disregarded. Bottlenecks arise and teams run into each other with orders that are contradictory, redundant, or sometimes even both.

CERTs debrief after the drill, sharing things that went well and things that could be improved.

However, mistakes and confusion are part of the learning experience, so that when CERTs are faced with the chaos of a real disaster response, they'll stay calm, resolve conflicts, and work the problem. And during the debrief, CERTs share their experiences, including things that went well, and things they can improve on.

Debriefing after drills is a crucial part of CERT training.

Light Search & Rescue and Crib Notes

Returning to the classroom, Lead Instructor Steve Willey starts getting into the details of CERT Light Search & Rescue Operations. Keeping rescuer safety first in mind, CERTs learn to categorize structures according to Light, Moderate, and Heavy damage, with Heavily damaged buildings being "NO GO" areas for CERTs. (You can practice evaluating structures and rescuing survivors in this web-based tutorial that Steve helped create.)

Presentation slide showing the characteristics of structures with Heavy damage, which are off-limits to CERTs.

After getting best practices for organizing and deploying Rescue teams (including adapting the Fire Department's tactic of designating Rapid Intervention Teams tasked to help rescuers who get into trouble), CERTs then learned the mechanics behind extricating trapped victims.

CERTs carefully use lifting and cribbing to safely free a simulated victim from beneath an unstable pile of wooden pallets.

CERTs learned to use simple machines like levers and inclined planes to turn mechanical advantage to their advantage. They also learned how to stack cribbing -- materials  crisscrossed like Jenga blocks -- to provide support as they lifted, following the rule "Lift an inch, crib an inch." Then, they went outside to two lifting and cribbing stations to turn theory into practice.

CERTs practice using levers and wedges to move a dumpster.

Using two-by-fours, four-by-fours, wedges, and blocks to move the heavy items, CERTs learned that they needed to plan out their moves in advance, and communicate them to all team members.

CERTs work together to safely stabilize and lift the pallets.

CERTs also learned vital safety lessons, like never reaching under what's being lifted (instead, use a push stick to position materials), and never standing over a lever (to avoid being struck if it moves unexpectedly).

Next time, we'll see how the CERTs perform as they handle fire extinguishers and then take on their last drill before their final, full-scale graduation exercise.

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