CERT Volunteers

A year and a half ago, the Coastside Fire Protection District board of directors overcame its reticence and agreed to be a fiscal sponsor for local Community Emergency Response Teams. Today, those teams are a force of more than 200 well- trained Coastsiders, prepared to help professional first-responders in the event of wildfire, earthquake or other disaster.

In fact, there is likely no better local example of how a little public investment coupled with a spirit of community service can make an incalculable difference in the lives of real people.

The idea of community volunteers working side by side with professional first-responders is still a relatively novel concept. CERT began in Los Angeles in the wake of the Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987. It didn’t become a national program until 1993. There are now 600,000 trained volunteers in all 50 states who have leveraged their own focus into a culture of preparedness that has spread through the community.

For years the program failed to flourish here for want of an official sponsor. In the wake of worsening wildfires, state officials began authorizing grants for training and operational expenses incurred by CERT and other such programs. It was only then that the local fire agency, concerned about potential liability, really saw beyond the expense and trouble to officially get behind the program and capitalize on a burgeoning movement of local activists. An initial five-figure state grant bought insurance and covered training expenses.

On Saturday, under bright blue skies, more than two dozen community volunteers — wearing green reflective CERT vests, masks and gloves — worked their way doggedly through seven training stations that represented the final step in their training. They learned how to tie a tourniquet, how to clear an obstructed airway, the basics of search and rescue and how to suppress a small fire, among other things. The complete class of 48 (a few stayed away out of an abundance of COVID-19 caution) had already undergone 12 hours of online training. They are now part of a volunteer force more than 245 strong that stand ready to serve neighbors from the Devil’s Slide tunnels to Tunitas Creek.

And, in truth, their reach could extend well beyond those artificial borders. The Coastside CERT branches were active during wildfires to the south this summer. They helped with communication in La Honda and beyond, and provided a human voice for anyone just looking for a little reassurance. They connected animal owners with people who could help. In all, they worked 7,000 hours during a pandemic for no compensation other than community goodwill.

We hear a lot these days about how divided we are. Everyone wants to know what side you are on. Do you vote blue or do you vote red? It’s good to know that, come what may, there are hundreds of Coastsiders wearing green who will be there for you no matter which cable news show you watch.

— Clay Lambert

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