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CERT volunteers hone their skills

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Mar 31, 2021

Members of the Horizon Village CERT perform an exercise in cribbing, which is getting a heavy object off a victim, using a crowbar as a fulcrum during a CERT mass-casualty drill Friday. CHUCK BALLARO


Imagine this frightening scenario: A tornado tears through North Fort Myers, leaving a path of destruction that results in numerous casualties and causes the loss of electricity for thousands of people.

This sequence of events was placed in front of dozens of volunteers on Friday as the Community Emergency Response Team held a mass-casualty drill at the North Fort Myers Community Park, with students from Cape Coral Technical College coming to provide assistance, playing the role of victims.

CERT volunteers serve as first responders, and with first responders, during an emergency. There are more than 500 volunteers in North Fort Myers alone, said Kristi Kulwicki, spokesperson with the North Fort Myers Fire & Rescue District, who helped put this event together.

“We’re going to be utilizing all the skills we’ve learned over the years in basic training,” Kulwicki said. “They are trained on a FEMA-based curriculum, and they know enough to take care of themselves and their communities to hold the fort down until the first responders get there.”

In this inaugural event, CERT volunteers participated in drills such as searching for victims, performing CPR, and assisting the “wounded” with light medical care until fire and EMS arrive, among many other things.

The North Fort Myers CERT team (which has many smaller CERT teams within the area’s communities, was deployed recently to the COVID vaccination site at the Fort Myers International Airport (RSW), the only one in Lee County activated.

CCTC students arrived to play the roles of victims, as did some of the sons and daughters of local firefighters.

Shannon Farley said she wanted to help out and do different things.

“I would like to be a member of CERT in the future. I’m playing a victim who is completely conscious, but I have just lost my house,” Farley said.

You couldn’t have students play the role of someone who had hundreds of pounds of debris fall onto them, so CPR dummies were used for a drill in cribbing, where the volunteers used leverage to pry a heavy piece of debris off somebody to get them free.

With all the communities in North Fort Myers, many of them filled with older individuals, CERT becomes that much more important to the area, and their skills may be utilized in many situations.

Gordon Dembsey, a Mountain View CERT member, has been a member since 2016 and said CERT is a necessity and that some members have used their training in real situations.

“I went to a meeting of the CERT team there and decided to join. We have lots of communities here and, if there is a disaster, we are available to help the fire department with triage and the disaster,” Dembsey said. “We are the first responders until they get here. I’m grateful the fire department serves as our guide. It’s a great thing that they do.”