By Taylor Short
Killeen Daily Herald
When disaster strikes, sometimes first responders need help from the very ones they vow to serve.
The Southwest Bell/Killeen Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, met Saturday to prepare for such situations - fires, floods, earthquakes, acts of terrorism or tornados - when community coordination becomes critical for survival.
Richard Diller has been a volunteer with CERT since its inception in Bell County in 2003 and even offers his home as a training ground for those interested in learning how to help.
"The CERT concept started in California from the massive damage in the earthquakes," he said. "It then spread to Florida, where they had a lot of wildfires and now it's spread around the country."
The team conducts monthly training exercises but meets once a year at Diller's home for real-life training scenarios, including search and rescue, basic medical care, how to set up a triage area, basic firefighting and extricating victims of disasters.
The basic mission, Diller said, is to learn what to do in the first 72 hours of a mass emergency. Removing victims from danger and delivering them to medical care is the top priority.
The second mission is to assist police, fire and other emergency responders when they arrive with basic organizational skills such as directing traffic during a flood.
Saturday morning the group learned how to call an air ambulance when ground units cannot make it thanks to help from the Air Evac Lifeteam.
CERT, along with the Medical Reserve Corps, relies on volunteerism for its effectiveness. During Saturday's training sessions, nearly 60 Bell County and Fort Hood volunteers took part in the training.
The group was assisted by the Fort Hood unit of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, a program that offers young men and women leadership skills similar to the Army's ROTC program.
"We do things to help the community and it gives the kids an opportunity to see what's going on," said Warrant Officer Tom Howes, a CERT instructor with the Navy. "This shows them that there are things they can do for the community during natural disasters."
When asked their favorite part of the training, the dozen cadets yelled "the helicopter" in near unison. Others said they enjoy using extinguishers to put out fires and that they feel they could go out and save lives if needed.
Some played as victims - being lifted in a makeshift stretcher or carried to safety by the air ambulance - while others learned how to perform CPR or use a bag valve mask on a dummy in Diller's garage.
Though the thought of widespread disasters is not a pleasant one, the volunteers and directors seemed to enjoy a full day with fellow residents learning how to lend a helping hand if the need arises.
"It's neighbors helping neighbors," said John Mayer, a CERT leader. "That's the bottom line."
For more information about CERT or to learn how to volunteer, go to www.ReadyKilleen.com.
Contact Taylor Short at email@example.com or (254) 501-7476. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcove.