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Program gets New Lenox residents ready to help in emergencies

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Updated: November 22, 2013 6:21AM



It was a beautiful Saturday morning in New Lenox, but officials know it won’t always be that way.

Tornadoes, floods, blizzards, even terrorism can strike and wreak havoc without warning.

So officials prepare. And they encourage residents to do the same by offering Community Emergency Response Team training, which guides regular folks through a multiweek disaster preparedness course.

“This is people helping people,” said Dan Martin, public safety division chief for the New Lenox Police Department. “We don’t have enough personnel to handle large-scale disasters so the more people we can train to take care of themselves and to help take care of others, the better off we’ll all be.”

So far, 251 people have gone through the program. The graduates help with community outreach to local organizations and assist police when necessary. In August, they helped search Pilcher Park for a missing woman. Two years ago, CERT members set up and staffed shelters around town during a blizzard.

After their final exercise Saturday, in which all 31 trainees helped triage and transport victims of a mock tornado on the lawn of the New Lenox police department, the class became the eighth to graduate from the program.

But before they could receive their certificate of completion and a backpack full of supplies, they had to deal with head injuries, wounds caused by flying debris and victims in various stages of shock.

Those with active bleeding, shock or breathing problems were designated to the red tarp; people with less severe injuries went to yellow; and the walking wounded were ushered to green.

As the trainees located victims, assessed their injuries and figured out methods of transport, veterans of the program observed and evaluated the decision making.

Evaluator Tom Mroz graduated with the first CERT class. The insurance company claims representative has come out to help with every class since.

Same for Art Bretz, who graduated from the second class. A retired firefighter-paramedic, Bretz now works with hazardous materials and is a member of a corporate HAZMAT team. “Signing up for CERT is being a good citizen,” Bretz said.

Naomi Carden is training to be a school bus driver. She was among the day’s graduates. “It’s very important for people to come together to help each other,” she said. Her daughters, Alexandria and Taylor, volunteered to be victims during the disaster drill.

Graduate Patty Kosek, a third-grade teacher at Minooka Elementary School, said she hopes to introduce CERT to that town.

“I feel it’s really important for community members to be prepared today,” said Kosek, who has a master’s degree in guidance and counseling as well as administration. “This program really helps you see the big picture.”

Julia Grimoldi, 22, a student at Prairie State College, said she signed up for the program to make her mom feel better.

“My mom is a doomsday prepper,” Grimoldi said.

Indeed, her mom, Carrie Williams, said the course opened her eyes to the importance of preparing as a community.

“Since I’ve gotten involved I realize that the more you can help on the outside, the less you need to seal yourself up on the inside,” Williams said.

Both Grimoldi and Williams live in Steger. “It’s good for out-of-towners to take the course because if something were to happen here, we could come in and help. We wouldn’t be traumatized by the disaster.”

After the exercise, the group headed indoors for evaluation, most of which was positive.

The few kinks that needed to be worked on included bettering communication via the walkie talkies and improving triage assessment.

Martin said the group will continue to meet monthly for ongoing training and refresher courses.

For more information on the New Lenox Community Emergency Response Team program, visit
safenewlenox.org.



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