The Pelham CERT team participates in mock plane crash put on by the Lowell Police Department in September., COURTESY PHOTO/PELHAM CERT PROGRAM
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BY CHRISTINE PHELAN, Valley Dispatch Staff

PELHAM — Even a rural hamlet can be the epicenter for pending disaster. That’s the take-home message from CERT coordinator Timothy Monette.

“Disasters know no boundaries,” Monette said. “These skills are vital to the health of the town. The more citizens that are trained through the CERT program, the more chance they have of possibly saving a life. We take our training knowledge everywhere we go.”

Pelham’s battery of CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) volunteers are a growing contingent of citizens in the Merrimack Valley trained to tend both local and national crises. Dracut, Devens, Lowell and Wilmington, too, have distinct CERT programs, though Pelham’s has existed since the spring of 2003, so far training about two dozen volunteers.

Barbara Gindi is one of them. After spotting a small ad for CERT training two years back, the mother and full-time student has already been dispatched to Florida in the wake of Hurricane Ivan and to Louisiana after hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck earlier this fall to provide disaster relief.

“When I’d talk about CERT, people would say, ‘Come on, we’re not going to have a 9-11 right here,’” Gindi, 50, recalled. “But I tried to explain that it’s the immediate town that tries to help out right after a crisis strikes. We’re there to be extra hands, to say, ‘Yeah, whatever, we’ll do it.’”

After the 20-hour training course, CERT volunteers are schooled in basics from CPR, fire safety and first aid to dealing with weapons of mass destruction, incident command structure and mass evacuation.

And the training is a skill in which residents are increasingly interested. About 25 have already signed up for the next training session, which takes place this January.

For her part, Gindi said her CERT training is an experience she wouldn’t trade for anything.

“I never thought in a million years that just by joining a little, innocent CERT team that it would turn into such a huge adventure,” she said. “There’s no price you can put on what you learn, the price on somebody’s life. And it’s just regular, everyday people just kind of jumping in and doing whatever needs to be done.”

Those interested in volunteering for the next CERT training program this January should contact the Pelham CERT via e-mail: admin@pelham.cert.nh.gov. Those wanting to make a donation to the town’s AED/defibrillator fund can do so at any Citizens Bank or mail it to Pelham CERT Lifesavers Program, 60 Bridge Street North, Pelham, NH, 03076.

Got a story idea? E-mail Christine Phelan at cphelan@thevalleydispatch.com.