Lakewood Ranch Community Emergency Response Team members receive emergency training from the experts.
As local residents were picking up their first fire extinguishers as trainees with the Lakewood Ranch Community Emergency Response Team, a real-life emergency was developing in Port Manatee with the emergence of a large scrapyard fire.
Although the fire, which broke out on April 7, was not a threat to those nearby, plumes of smoke could be seen for long distances, and the attention of several fire departments was required.
“It does keep you mindful that something can always happen," CERT President Jim Emanuelson said.
Jim Emanuelson and his wife, Karen, had already learned that lesson in 2017 after they moving to Lakewood Ranch from the Midwest the year before.
Initially, the couple didn't realize the extent to which natural disasters had the potential to interrupt the community, but their thinking changed when Hurricane Irma made landfall and moved north through the state.
Although the damage to Manatee County was minimal, the couple saw a need in the community for greater emergency preparedness. In 2018, they decided to join Lakewood Ranch CERT, and in 2020 Jim Emanuelson became president and Karen Emanuelson became communications manager. Jim Emanuelson said the team has approximately 200 members and that adding to and replenishing the membership base is always a priority.
The recent basic training course, which took place from March 30 to April 7, drew enthusiastic praise from those in attendance.
After her training with the, Lakewood Ranch's Cindy Pierce is confident she can help her community in a crisis.
“I'm so excited to be a part of CERT,” Pierce said. “I hope I never have to use my training. I hope there's never a tornado or a hurricane that comes through this area where our services would be needed. But if it does happen, I'm going to be there. I'm going to be there to help my community, and that's why I signed up for the class.”
CERT is designed to train members of the community to supplement the operations of Manatee County's Emergency Management through skills that include fire safety, search and rescue, and medical interventions. CERT also educates the public on disaster preparedness. It has been described by Emergency Management Chief Steve Litschauer as his “eyes and ears on the ground."
Upon graduation of the training, Pierce was given a backpack containing supplies including a hardhat, safety goggles, work gloves, a whistle, a hydration pack and bandages. She's prepared if ever called to service.
The course began with three training sessions at the Lakewood Ranch Town Hall before concluding at the East Manatee Fire Rescue Station 1.
East Manatee Fire Rescue provides instruction on fire safety and utility control as well as light search and rescue operations. Beginning with presentations from Lt. Chad Gamble at the station, the final day of the course moved on to exercises that Jim Emanuelson said were some of the most action-heavy sessions.
Emanuelson also said fire rescue created a dummy that CERT members had to extracting from rubble — they folded a fire hose into the shape of a person.
"They even drew a little face on it, which was kind of funny," Emanuelson said. "It was very heavy."
Using piles of wood to simulate concrete slabs, Gamble taught the class about cribbing and blocking. Cribbing refers to building a structure underneath the object being manipulated in order to create a stable foundation. Blocking refers to leveraging the object when cribbing is not sufficient.
Lakewood Ranch's Sudi Hirmanpour, who participated in the training, said the rescue exercise was a mental and physical challenge.
"It’s so difficult because removing one object can have an unexpected effect on all of the other objects," Hirmanpour said. "It can create collapses that would crush the victim. You cannot just take a car jack and lift it up. You lift, stabilize; then you go an inch up, stabilize; another inch, lift and then stabilize. That's a good lesson to learn."
Lakewood Ranch's Mike Roger, who participated in the training, said the exercise was effective in pointing out mistakes CERT members must avoid.
“Probably the most important thing is assessing the scene to make sure it's safe for us,” Roger said.
Roger's team did not notice an electrical cord underneath the materials, which in reality, could have been a live wire.
“That was a real eye opener,” he said. “We made some mistakes, but we learn from them, right? We're not going to repeat them. So that's the great part about training. The more training we get, the more proficient we become with the skills necessary to help people.”
For Hirmanpour, the fire extinguisher exercise was also informative.
“It's nice to get a sense of what those extinguishers feel like,” Hirmanpour said. “Now, we all know whether you’re going to have to pull up or press down. Once you know how to use it, then it’s easy. At first, because you’ve never done it before, you don’t even know what it feels like to hold the fire extinguisher.”
CERT instructor Nigel Pilling said being trained at the station differentiates Lakewood Ranch's CERT program from others. An instructor since 2018, Pilling now manages the training committee and organizes the four-day training program overall and said he accomplishes it with plenty of help from East County Fire Rescue, as well as the emergency management of Manatee and Sarasota counties.
"It’s something that contributes to the success and the ongoing engagement of the people who come through this program," Pilling said about CERT's relationship with East Manatee Fire Rescue. "They give their time to educate us. So it's a win-win for everybody that's involved in the process. It’s a challenge. There’s lots of moving parts, but at the end of the day, we've got people going out to help their neighbors."
Emanuelson said the training is important because it allows members to perform rescues without making the situation worse. In some cases, rescue attempts can backfire and harm the victim or endanger those attempting the rescue. He said that in Lakewood Ranch, one important function of CERT members is helping the community in the aftermath of a hurricane.
Emanuelson said that at the time of a storm, a curfew will usually be put in place. However, CERT members in Manatee County are allowed outdoors during the daylight hours of the curfew in order to perform certain tasks. Although emergency services search all main roads, roadways blocked by trees and damaged cell towers can prevent access to parts of the community. CERT also carries radios that they can use to contact Manatee County Emergency Services.
Hirmanpour said the CERT training session was one of the best she's ever attended.
"It was so well organized and well done," Hirmanpour said. "I loved it."
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