After a long absence of any kind of formal volunteer effort dedicated to emergency preparedness in Kings Mountain, a groundswell of recent community interest resulted in a new Community Emergency Response Team.
“It reached a point where the fire department really wanted a CERT team because even though they have 15 volunteer firefighters, in a real emergency, professionals cannot handle everything going on,” said Kings Mountain Volunteer Fire Brigade Board President Jon Fredrikson.
A nationwide program, CERT was developed in 1985 by the Los Angeles City Fire Department. Now, there are local branches in jurisdictions across the country teaching people fire safety, search and rescue, medical aid and team organization.
Fredrikson, who is a longtime resident of the Kings Mountain area and who also served as a volunteer firefighter for two years, said he remembers about 25 years ago when there was an early form of CERT. That was before a program was officially formalized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the early 1990s.
“It was local residents banding together to help each other in emergencies,” Fredrikson said.
But, over time, community interest faded and the group dwindled, according to Assistant Fire Chief Hank Stern. Now, with the help of residents such as Kim Ohlund, designated Kings Mountain CERT’s coordinator, there’s a resurgence.
Ohlund, who’s been a resident in the area for about six years, said she was approached by Fredrikson and asked to be the team’s coordinator.
“We are a very rural area, very independent but we do need to pull together and work as a team during emergencies,” Ohlund said. “Up here, unlike in suburban areas, I do not see a neighbor for a half a mile in every direction. So it’s important to get to know one another.”
That is part of the reason the fire department relies on a CERT program.
“First, because this an isolated community. we are removed from other emergency services just by distances and elevation and because we are in a rural area,” Stern said. “We are last on the priority list if there is a wide-scale emergency.”
The Kings Mountain Volunteer Fire Brigade services about 400 families living in the area from Highway 92 up to Highway 35 to Bear Gulch Reservoir. There are only a few ways to access the area, making it particularly vulnerable during storms or wildfires, if trees or power lines come down.
“It can quickly overwhelm our services, especially if there are multiple medical aid calls at the same time,” Stern said. “That is where CERT is of huge importance to us.”
CERT members may be asked to assist in search and rescue, and help people needing immediate medical assistance.
Fire Chief Jim Sullivan recently negotiated an understanding with the San Mateo County Office of Emergency Services to be the designated agency to activate the Kings Mountain CERT members when needed.
The next step for the Kings Mountain CERT team, according to Fredrikson, is to get some of the participants certified using amateur radio. Experts say it is vital for such groups to have an effective communication method, should there be a power outage during an emergency.
Trained members from La Honda and South Skyline CERT, assisted by Fire Chief Ari Delay, are teaching Kings Mountain CERT courses.