The city of National City’s community emergency team that assists people affected by disasters and emergencies in the city is now training teenagers to help in these situations.
The city’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) has been in existence for two years, but for the first time last September, the academy included teenagers.
Walter Amedee, a National City firefighter and CERT program manager, said the idea of including teenagers started when he would often turn away high school students seeking community service hours at the firestation because there was nothing for them to do.
“It occurred to me if we trained these teens to become CERT members we’re actually teaching them something that hopefully, as they become adults, and if we had a disaster like an earthquake, they can do something,” Amedee said.
To equip themselves for an emergency or disaster, CERT members go through fire extinguisher training, basic medical preparedness training, training on how to prepare an emergency kit and how to coordinate with the city’s Emergency Operations Center.
“We train them on the type of disasters that can occur and what they should do before, during and after,” Amedee said.
Amedee said he decided not to strictly have a teenage CERT course, instead incorporated teenagers into the same classes with the adults.
He said last session there were 16 teens and 27 adults taking CERT courses.
A benefit to mixing the teenagers with the adults Amedee said is that they make it a family affair.
“Some of them brought their family members, it was a whole family that came and they go through the program too,” he said. “That was an added bonus that we didn’t even think of, that these teens are bringing in their family members.”
The program requires each individual to complete a total of 24 hours of training.
Classes are one day a week for three hours for eight weeks.
Amedee said he didn’t have to adjust the way he teaches the course for teenagers to understand the curriculum.
“There isn’t really much of a difference,” he said. “The course is actually the same.”
Parents just need to sign a waiver allowing their teen to participate in the program, he said.
At the completion of the academy, each individual will receive a certificate that says they are CERT qualified.
If a member wants to continue and be an official CERT member for the city, they would need to go through a background check with the city and be sworn in by the City Clerk’s Office.
Amedee said so far there haven’t been any emergencies that required the teenagers involvement.
He said having fully-trained community members will make his job easier should a disaster happen.
“We, as a city, know that if we had a major disaster like an earthquake, we would not be able to deal with the disaster on our own,” he said. The CERT program is free to the public.
Amedee said the fire department pays its firefighters overtime to teach a CERT class.