Neighbors practice helping neighbors in emergency situations
Sherry Coulter and Karan Gupta made their way through a blackened building Saturday, the bricks scorched from fires past. They darted past old plywood, fraying mattresses and a rusted refrigerator in the dark.
In green helmets, they knelt beside the first victim, a middle-aged woman with burns on her face and arms.
“Do you have trouble breathing?” Coulter asked. The team helped her hobble down the steps and into daylight, to safety.
About 15 Durham residents were going through Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training early Saturday, their breath visible in the 30-degree weather as they grabbed fire extinguishers and battled small blazes.
These teams will be well-equipped to respond to disasters before the licensed emergency responders — firefighters, police, EMTs — arrive. They can assess their neighborhoods after a tornado or other disaster strikes, quickly pinpointing who needs help right away and who needs minor treatment.
David Marsee, Durham County’s emergency management coordinator, has had church groups, library staffers and college students go through his classes, which range from CPR lessons to Saturday’s disaster roleplay.
Each team had to extinguish a small fire, then find, treat and triage victims in the “burn house” training area at the Durham Fire Department headquarters.
“These people are an asset to the community,” Marsee said of the CERT volunteers. “Even if their neighborhoods are OK, they’ve also said they’ll help us wherever we need them.”
When Coulter and Gupta appeared with their victim, Marsee asked how they would classify the severity of her injuries — Would she be a serious or stable patient?
“They could be respiratory burns, (she) could start deteriorating quickly,” Marsee instructed.
“There’s an urge, not to split up, but to do everything at once,” said Gupta, a Duke environmental management graduate student, warming up in the sun after his training. “It can feel a little frustrating. You feel like you’re moving slow.”
One of the roleplayers, 15-year-old Kristen Belue from Riverside High School’s Air Force JROTC program, had to be carried down the stairs on a folded blanket. She was supposed to be unconscious, suffering from internal bleeding.
“I kept thinking, ‘Please don’t drop me,’” Belue said after-the-fact.
Each volunteer took turns with a fire extinguisher, snuffing a small fire in one of the rooms. Durham firefighters looked on, controlling the gas that fueled the flames. The participants were taught to make sure the fire is out first before letting anyone else in the building.
Capt. Dave Parker with the Durham Fire Department said the training helps people get in the right state of mind if they ever respond to natural disasters or highway wrecks. He said they can help when the fire department is overwhelmed during a large-scale tragedy.
“It’s ownership of your community and being willing to help your neighbors,” Parker said.
Juls Joyner, an admin support employee in the N.C. Central University School of Education, said the campus started its own CERT group about a year ago. The team has about 50 members who can help during disasters that affect the community.
Joyner went through the burn house Saturday with two NCCU students, and she said she learns patience during exercises like these, that a responder has to care for him or herself before saving others.
“If you’re not there mentally, you’re not going to be useful,” she said. “You’re going to add to the number of victims if you just jump in.
“As the employees, we’re supposed to help the students since they’re away from home,” she added. “Hopefully I’ll be a better help.”