By Daniel Silliman
The College Park Fire Department has joined the Federal Emergency Management Agency to offer disaster-preparation classes.
The fire chief, Cedric Scott, said the classes, first developed in California in the 1980s in response to earthquakes, immediately grabbed community interest.
"It's an idea that's catching on around the state, and it's coming out of the wake of incidents like a lot of the disasters you see happen, Katrina, 9/11 for example, and even some incidents that would cause great concern for a community, like that train accident that happened the other day. You might not be able to get emergency help, right away. We want the citizens of College Park to kind of be prepared and able to understand how they could be alone for the first 36 hours."
The fire department is now offering free Community Emergency Response Team training. CERT training teaches disaster preparedness, including preparation, basic fire fighting, first aid, search and rescue, and disaster psychology.
"The community then is armed with information," Scott said. "That's what CERT is actually about. It's about community being involved in the response phase, being able to do first aid, so you can help your neighbor."
There are 20 hours of classes, spread over a number of weeks and ending with a live drill, testing all the disaster skills, according to College Park Training Officer Kevin Harris.
"We set up a little scenario. Most of the time it's like a tornado. We have mannequins. A little fire burning. We may have a vacant house we can use and we'll add a little smoke, with a smoke machine. Not anything dangerous, but just for effect," Harris said.
The fire department started advertising the classes last week. They're targeting neighborhood associations, business, communities of faith, schools and clubs. All the students going through the class will get free disaster-preparedness kits.
Scott said the department already has three classes set up between now and the end of October.
Anyone interested in the class, can call the fire department at (404) 766-8248.