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Getting ready for 'the Big One'

Classes aim to prepare and empower residents to help each other.

April 20, 2011|By Sara Cardine, Special to the Valley Sun
  • Students at an April 16 Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) training practice their fire extinguishing skills in the first of three classes held at La Canada City Hall.
Students at an April 16 Community Emergency Response…

It’s been an hour since the earthquake hit. Cell phone service is down and neighbors are starting to panic. No one can get through to report injuries to police or fire departments and it may be unsafe to stay indoors.

What would you do?

In an effort to find meaningful answers to that horrifying hypothetical, 42 local residents came to La Cañada Flintridge City Hall Saturday for the first of three free Community Emergency Response Training classes offered by the Los Angeles County Fire Department. The training is designed to prepare citizens to assume the role of ad-hoc block captains and organizers in the event of a large-scale emergency or natural disaster.

“When there’s a major disaster, we’re going to be overwhelmed,” firefighter and CERT coordinator Steven Harper told participants. “That’s why we’re here in this class, so you can prepare yourself in case of an event.”

As introductions were made around the room, students were asked to share a talent or skill they could bring to bear in the event of an emergency. One man mentioned being fluent in Italian, while another admitted having experience building movie sets.

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“Being able to translate is huge, and being able to build things is even better,” said Dan O’Neil, a firefighter with 20 years experience. “If we’re in a disaster, that’s what we’ll need.”

Introductions continued and the skills added up — nursing, food service, engineering. The exercise is all a part of building cooperative community action, according to Stephanie English, community services representative for the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

“The message we bring is neighbor helping neighbor,” English said. “Everybody has a skill they can bring to the table — they just may not know what it is.”

La Cañada resident Sam Dea works as a regional planner for Los Angeles County. After recommending the CERT class to others, he decided to enroll himself. Dea, whose awareness was raised by the Japan earthquakes, wants to be able to take care of his family, co-workers or neighbors should an emergency strike. “We’re putting a disaster kit together, so I thought I should take the class, too,” he said.

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