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Waukegan trains first set of citizen emergency responders


Residents completing the Waukegan Fire Department's inaugural Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) class gathered this week for a graduation ceremony following a 10-week course in disaster preparedness. | Photo courtesy of Waukegan Fire Department

In the first example of what is expected to become a regular occurrence, Waukegan Fire Department officials hosted a graduation ceremony this week for residents who completed training to form a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).

Fire Chief Ricco Farrell said a total of 19 participants tackled the 10-week course, which covered basic disaster response skills such as fire safety, light search-and-rescue techniques, team organization, and disaster medical operations.

“This is something where we’re utilizing citizens in disaster situations where they can [begin] the process of responding,” Farrell said. “Let’s say, for instance, we have a tornado. These citizens are trained in doing emergency preparation to assess who needs emergency assistance and in search-and-rescue.

“It’s not to the [level] of the fire service, but it’s something where they can begin the process before the fire department gets there or when the fire department is tasked with other responsibilities.”

The training was the first of its kind for the Waukegan Fire Department and, similar to Waukegan’s Citizens Police Academy, was a free course that trained citizen volunteers.

The graduation ceremony took place at the department’s Station No. 5 on Green Bay Road.

“They had 10 weeks of training, identifying situations needing skills, like unsafe buildings from a collapse or natural disasters,” Farrell said. “They are trained in looking at the building to see if it is safe for them to go in and see if anyone needs assistance.”

Farrell added that the participants also received light medical training such as bandaging and splinting and also instruction in triage, which determines the level of urgency for victims at mass-casualty scenes.

Students were also given hands-on instruction in the use of rescue items like seat-belt cutters for use at accident scenes, though Farrell noted that CERT courses are not intended to replace the duties of first-responders.

“If they’re in a big disaster and there are so many medical calls that the fire service cannot respond at that time, instead of feeling helpless, they can get out there and start treatment that they were trained in,” Farrell said.

The chief added that a second class is slated to start in January. Applicants should be age 21 and older, with the physical ability to help with things like lifting people or objects.

Otherwise, he added, “in terms of any other requirements, a person just has to have the desire to help in a time of need.”

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