Eighteen people have gathered at the Burbank Fire Training Center for the last four Saturdays, for seven hours each day.
They are taking classes that are part of the Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, program. The program essentially teaches people to be self sufficient and temporary first responders when a catastrophe hits.
Burbank resident Beverly Hergenroeder is taking the class with her husband, and said one of the things the class isn’t, is CPR.
“The CERT program is designed for major disasters, although they highly recommend taking CPR and we’re actually scheduled to take it with the Red Cross,” Hergenroeder said.
Saturday, Oct. 10 marked the completion of the program, and Hergenroeder and her classmates also took part in a mock disaster exercise, where student volunteers wore makeup to simulate injuries, to practice the skills they learned.
Hergenroeder said by phone before the class ended that she was nervous and excited about Saturday, and talked about some of the highlights of the course.
“On a very personal note, it’s very exciting to find out, that after taking the course, if there is some kind of emergency in our home, if my husband is injured, I can get him on my back and get him out of the house,” she said. “At 52, I’m not sure I could say I could drag a 200-pound man out of the house. It’s very empowering.”
As to why she does this, Hergenroeder said: “The corny answer is you become part of the solution and not part of the problem. You’re not in a position where you feel like a victim, you know you can be proactive. I would think it would help just knowing that if something were to happen, that you know what to do. You know how to be prepared.”
Hergenroeder said she first took a CERT class about 20 years ago when she was single, and had just moved to the Los Angeles area.
“I was afraid of earthquakes, I grew up in New York City,” she said, adding that she took the class after either the 1994 Northridge Earthquake or the 1987 Whittier Narrows quake.
The Northridge Earthquake was a magnitude 6.7 and is considered one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history, causing billions of dollars in property damage. The 5.9 magnitude Whittier earthquake caused about $360 million in damages.
“The startling thing was how quickly all the resources in L.A. were used,” Hergenroeder said. “In a matter of minutes, the professional resources had been deployed. I had to learn to take care of myself. Fear can paralyze you. So anything to help me figure out what to do, instead of panicking, seemed like a good idea.”
Eric Baumgardner, emergency management coordinator with the Burbank Fire Dept. and the city’s emergency manager, said CERT classes are offered by the Burbank Fire Dept. to the general public in the spring and fall.
Baumgardner, who volunteered with the Burbank Fire Dept. from 1996 to 2013, said CERT plays a valuable role in the city.
“CERT teaches regular people in the neighborhood how to prepare for an emergency, how to take care of themselves, their family and their neighborhood,” Baumgardner said. “They become a force multiplier for the city in a catastrophic incident.”
When an emergency is declared, “CERT or Burbank Fire Corps Program volunteers can be sent to neighborhoods to do non-hazardous work, or sent to a park to assist with basic medical treatment,” Baumgardner said. “They can be used as part of the city’s resources.”
Instructors include Baumgardner and credentialed instructors from the fire corps program, a non-hazardous support operations volunteer program of the Burbank Fire Dept.
The Los Angeles City Fire Dept. (LAFD) created what is now known as CERT in 1985 and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) took the program nationally in the early 90s, Baumgardner said.
Brittany Vaughan, director of operations for the Boys and Girls Club of Burbank and Greater East Valley, said she completed the CERT class in the spring, and had prior knowledge of CERT because her parents participated in the program when she was younger.
“I always knew it would be important for someone in the nonprofit world and who works for an organization that serves a lot of kids, to have someone who is trained in emergency response,” Vaughan said.
She had not taken a CERT class before, and among the things Vaughan said she learned was how to put out fires and how to search for people in a building.
“Again, I work with kids and to know how to go back into a building and do a proper search, and then the extra information on how to create an emergency kit for a certain amount of people or size of the building was invaluable,” Vaughan said.
Vaughan said she shared the information with the staff and went back and rewrote their crisis management plan, incorporating building search techniques in earthquake and fire drills.
She is considering going back to CERT classes periodically, as she is aware it can be advantageous to do so, especially to the last class where an emergency is simulated.
“But I would love to see others in my organization or other nonprofits get trained as well,” Vaughan said.
Baumgardner, the city’s emergency manager, said there is a plan to host bi-monthly meetings for nonprofits starting in 2016 (there may be an official kickoff before the end of 2015). One of the goals is to link nonprofit service providers in the community so they are able to work with each other and support each other following an emergency.
Ralph Rodriguez is among the 18 members of the current class. The eight-year resident also hails from New York City and said it is the first time he has taken such a class.
For Rodriguez, helping others is important.
“I think that we, as a community, have to….try to help each other,” Rodriguez said. “I come from a background where my grandparents were community organizers.”
Rodriguez said another reason he chose to participate is because an emergency is inevitable.
“It’s not if something is going to happen, it’s when, and when it does, we need to forget about lines of division and focus on on what brings us together,” Rodriguez said. “When something happens, I can do my part to help my neighbor, regardless of our political beliefs. I want to teach that to my children, [that] it’s not, ‘Every man for himself.'”
For more information on CERT, visit: www.burbankcert.org
Members of this class are: Beverly Hergenroder, Ken Hergenroder, Steven Wakimoto,
Anthony Hacha, Trent Welker, Oas Hawili, Alex Escobar, Anthony Martinez, Branden Campos,
Patrick Baba, Rie Hagihara, Mary Totten, Ralph Rodriquez and Julianna Rogers.
Instructors of this class are: Grant Palmer, Rob Powell, Sherilyn Lee, Joe Arnone, Gerald Lehtola, Vicky Reagan and Diane Western.