BEACON FALLS — When disaster strikes and the fire and police departments are overburdened, the town has a new group of volunteers that it can turn to for help.
The newly formed Community Emergency Response Team graduated a group of men and women this month who are ready to assist emergency personnel in the face of a disaster.
“It’s very important to the town,” Emergency Management Director Eddie Rodriguez said. “When we had our last storm, Alfred, and didn’t have any power, we had a lot of emergency calls.”
He explained members of the fire department were either out on calls, stuck in their own houses due to the storm, or checking on family member and friends, so the town found itself in need of more volunteers than it had.
“It really opened our eyes, this last storm, when we didn’t have that many volunteers. We said we had to do something else, we need more assistance, we need more volunteers and this is the way to do it,” Rodriguez said.
When the town put out the call for volunteers to go through the eight-week training course and become CERT volunteers, lots of people signed up.
“I was amazed by the amount of people that called and wanted to join. We had an incredible response,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez explained the response for CERT volunteers was so good that the town is planning on having a second training class in the autumn. There is not set date for that class yet, but each class can only have 25 people in it.
One of the first people to sign up for the training was Joe Dowdell.
“Once I heard that we were going to do something like this in town I thought this is just right for me to help out more,” Dowdell said.
During the October storm, Dowdell saw how the fire department and police department were overwhelmed with all the work that needed to be done. He thought it would be beneficial if there were people to help them with some of the tasks.
“Having the extra help would have been great, but there was nobody to do it,” Dowdell said. “With this program we can do the little things they don’t need to do, like directing traffic. They could be out saving people.”
First Selectman Gerard Smith explained that the CERT volunteers are trained in fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, disaster medical operations, and running shelters.
“We cover all these different types of situations for them to assist us in these types of situations,” Smith said.
Rodriguez explained the CERT training consisted of four, hour-long classes every Wednesday evening for eight weeks and a training scenario every other week. There was also a training scenario on their graduation day.
Dowdell said the training was very intensive, and he feels ready to assist if a disaster should arise. He also knows that there is more that he can learn.
“It’s a constant training, whenever they can find more training for us, we will get it,” Dowdell said.
If another disaster were to strike the town, Dowdell feels confident that the CERT volunteers would be a beneficial resource for the emergency personnel.
“[CERT is] very important because the fire department is all volunteers. They have their normal jobs to go to on top of working at the fire house,” Dowdell said. “So with CERT coming in helping them, it will help to take the stress and strain off them.”