Community Emergency Response Team celebrates fourth graduating class

CERT IV graduates are, from left: Lisa Young, Alan Amato, JoAnn White, Kris-Ann Amato, Pelham firefighter/CERT program director Richard Hanegan, Richard Hillard, MaryBeth Wilson Hillard, Trena White, Jas Moorjani, Mariyln Mullen, Daniel King. Not in photo: Graduates Benjamin Harrison and Michael Ferris.

PELHAM — While it’s every mother’s (and dad’s) wish that we never experience the likes of the Mother’s Day Flood of 2006 again, Pelham officially became a bit more prepared for just that type of natural disaster with the graduation of 12 more Community Emergency Response Team members in a ceremony April 17 at Town Hall.

It’s the fourth group of dedicated volunteers that Pelham firefighter Richard Hanegan has guided through the yearlong course since 2003, when he established the first CERT program in New Hampshire.

“They’re ready for the call, and not just to help us (fire and police departments),” said Hanegan of this year’s graduates, who successfully completed 24 hours of classroom and exercise training.

“As we told them at the beginning of the classes, the goal is to prepare everybody so they know what to do to first take care of themselves and their families in the event of a manmade or natural disaster. They know how to respond and do it faster. They know the contacts they need to make and the equipment they need, and they can help their neighbors if they want to, whatever they choose to do.”

With its origin in Los Angeles in the wake of the 1987 earthquake that left many people without water or electricity for 72 hours, according to Hanegan, the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program became part of FEMA’s Department of Homeland Security after Sept. 11, 2001 at the urging of President Bush. CERT educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area, provides training in CPR, use of a defibrillator, fire safety, “light” search and rescue, hazardous-materials response, weapons-of-mass destruction awareness, and command-post organization.

Using training learned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT members can assist others after an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help. There are now thousands of CERT teams nationwide.

On stage at Pelham’s CERT IV graduation ceremony held in Sherburne Hall in the Town Hall building complex, Fire Chief Michael Walker enthusiastically congratulated the 12 graduates, welcoming them to the team of first responders, which includes police and fire department personnel.

“These are incredibly special people,” said Walker. “Having this group of people to help defend the community against manmade and natural threats, it makes the rest of the community feel a lot more at ease knowing these people are out there ready to help. They come out in the middle of the night, in the cold, the rain — I marvel at them, appreciate them. They’re heroes.”

Among this group of 12 graduates is Daniel King, 21, a 2005 graduate of Salem High School who’s also a Marine. King’s CERT graduation came just in time. His Marine unit ships off to Iraq next month.

“I decided when I was 5 years old that I wanted to be a firefighter,” King said. “Right now, I’m going to college to be a firefighter, and I wanted to do something while I’m in college to help out in the community and get more involved.”

Having been previously trained in CPR and how to use a defibrillator, King cited hazardous materials response as the most memorable segment of CERT training. “To see the classifications of differing hazardous materials, how to properly cordon off an area, making sure everybody is evacuated, and setting up a command center; it was very interesting,” King said.

With the graduation of this fourth CERT class, Hanegan estimates there are “between 30 and 40” trained Community Emergency Response Team members in the area. Hanegan also gave special recognition to existing CERT members, including Pelham resident Diane Brunelle, one of the original 16 (CERT I) members.

“Well, I’ve just always volunteered throughout my life since I was a teenager, and it continues,” noted Brunelle. “After 9-11, when I saw it posted on the town message board that he (Hanegan) was forming a CERT program, I signed up right away.”

The fire and police departments can dearly use the trained help in many types of emergencies, according to Chief Walker.

“They’re not going to replace the firefighters on the line, but we do have limited personnel, and if you look at preparedness for a disaster, we’re going to run out of people, quick,” Walker said.

Anyone interested in signing up for Pelham’s CERT V group training are welcome to contact firefighter Richard Hanegan at the Pelham Fire Department (603-635-2703).