WESTFIELD- The Westfield Emergency Management Agency (WEMA) is seeking volunteers for its Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)
WEMA Director Steve Malochleb said that he wants to revamp the city’s CERT with new volunteers because he thinks the team has been underutilized. CERTs are often used in parts of the country in which natural disasters like tornadoes or hurricanes are more frequent. Teams consist of volunteers who supplement emergency services during emergencies, disasters, or large events.
“The idea here is to have a team in place not just for disasters, but community events. They can do traffic control, crowd control, and take some of the strain off the police departments,” said Malochleb.
Malochleb said that the previous WEMA Director Jim Wiggs tried having a CERT but never fully pursued it. Malochleb is one of about a dozen active members who have been on the CERT in Westfield since 2012. He said there have been recent events like Westfield’s “First Night” on New Years Eve where having additional CERT volunteers would have benefitted law enforcement.
In 2011 the Westfield CERT team was frequently active from June to November due to incidents like the Springfield tornado and the infamous October snow storm.
When one joins the CERT they receive training and get certified as part of the team. The team is entirely volunteer-based, meaning that if one joins the team, they are not obligated to participate in any given event or situation. One can pick and choose when to volunteer their time.
Malochleb said that WEMA recently was approved for a grant to purchase supplies to get the CERT going. Part of the $11,000 grant will go towards purchasing emergency bags that will be given to each CERT member. Each bag will contain supplies such as flashlights, gloves, and masks, among other things that may be useful in an emergency situation.
Part of the grant will also be used to purchase additional equipment for the police and fire departments in Westfield.
There is also a Junior CERT for middle and high schoolers. The Junior CERT helps kids learn skills like first aid, CPR, the heimlich maneuver, and even what to do in an active shooter situation.
“They may not use it every day. They may only use it once in a lifetime. But if they only use it once, it was worth it,” said Malochleb.
One must be at least 18-years-old to join the full CERT, and background checks are run on all volunteers before they are certified. Each member must take a six-week training class, but Malochleb said that this part is up in the air due to the ongoing pandemic. He said that the course cannot be done via Zoom. He said he thinks they may do two sessions per week with 10 people in each session to train 20 people per week.
One event that will likely require CERT volunteers in 2021 is the Westfield Barnes International Airshow in August. Malochleb said that CERT members will be necessary to take the load off the other groups and volunteers who are needed to run the show.
“It takes a tremendous amount of manpower to put that on,” said Malochleb.
Should any of the prominent COVID-19 vaccine candidates become available to Westfield residents in 2021, CERT volunteers may be needed to help smoothly run a mass vaccination clinic. They would not be able to administer the vaccine itself, but they could help with traffic and crowd control.
On top of large events and emergencies, Malochleb said the CERT could also be used for more everyday situations. He said he wants to have enough volunteers to have people plow the snowed-in driveways of the elderly or to call in to vulnerable residents on days of extreme heat or cold to make sure they are okay and have everything they need.